Advocates say they will address concerns
By Margarita Raycheva
Frederick County public school officials need additional information before they can decide whether to approve the Frederick Outdoor Discovery Charter School — a proposed school focused on outdoor education and study of the environment.
Members of the Frederick County Board of Education on Wednesday asked charter school advocates to provide them with additional information on several topics, including the school’s building lease, its curriculum and budget, and its plans for insurance, health personnel, future students and extracurricular activities. The board is scheduled to vote on the application on Oct. 24,
Board members said they are concerned about the school’s proposed location, at Camp Round Meadow, near Catoctin National Park, which would put the school in close proximity to Camp David and therefore might affect it when the area is closed for presidential visits.
Though advocates plan to address that by scheduling field trips and outings, board members said they want to see a more solid contingency plan and possibly an alternative location for such cases.
“There is going to be times when you are not going to get much notice,” school board member Donna Crook said at the board’s regularly scheduled meeting, when school officials gave charter applicants initial feedback on their proposal.
“I’d like to see some sort of plan for an alternative location, something beyond a field trip.”
Board members also expressed concern about access to the school in winter and asked charter proponents to demonstrate that they have attracted families willing to drive their children to the school every day.
Despite the board’s concern and the fact that Frederick County Schools Superintendent Theresa Alban has recommended rejection of the school, proponents said they remain optimistic.
“We all wouldn’t be here if we didn’t really believe in this,” said Djohariah Pfaehler, a Middletown resident and a founding chair for the school.
The school aims to educate 132 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, using a model known as “Environment as an Integrating Context” (EIC), which incorporates the environment on all levels of curriculum.
County officials rejected the charter school when it first came up for review in November 2011 and told applicants they wanted a more specific plan, especially concerning its curriculum.
When applicants submitted a new plan this year, officials evaluated the proposal on 64 indicators and determined that, in 27 of those areas, the proposal did not meet the system’s charter school requirements.
In her recommendation to the board, Alban questioned the school’s proposed curriculum, facilities, math materials and the safety and security of students.
She also questioned the lack of detail in the plans for outdoor education, the lack of support from families to populate the school and the lack of a lease or other official document ensuring that the school has permission to use its proposed location.
On Wednesday, Alban told the board that she was worried that, of the six schools in the state that use the EIC model, four could not meet their state test targets in 2011 and that, in the past, the state has identified three of the six schools as needing improvement.
Alban also said the school’s proposed math textbook was too similar to “Investigations in Numbers Data and Space,” a textbook that Frederick County officials replaced following criticism from parents. Parents complained that the book focused on math concepts and discovery, rather than on basic math algorithms.
School board members April Miller and Brad Young said they also are concerned about the similarities been the proposed math textbook and the Investigations textbook.
“I will have a difficult time approving that,” Miller said.
Pfaehler said advocates would be open to looking at other math programs.
She also noted that the EIC schools that Alban cited are not certified in the program and use only aspects of it. The Frederick Outdoor Discovery Charter School would fully implement the program and hire teachers trained in EIC methods, she said.
Advocates have 97 students ready to enroll, along with 40 who have expressed interest, Pfaehler said.
If approved, the school would join Monocacy Valley Montessori Public Charter School and Carroll Creek Montessori Charter School, which operate in the county.
The Frederick Classical Charter school has been approved by the board but its opening has been delayed.