When I was invited to become a founding member of the Fairfax Leadership Academy Board, several questions immediately came to mind. Does a school that targets students who live in poverty, for whom English is not a first language, and who struggle to succeed in a traditional school setting fill an unfilled educational need? Does FCPS need a new way to serve these students? Would FCPS benefit by receiving additional resources in order to offer these disadvantaged students a level educational playing field? My answer was a resounding “Yes”.
Let me tell you what I have seen in my 10 years as the Mason District School Board Member and my three years as the 38th District Delegate. When I was elected to the School Board in 1999, there was a recognition by most Board Members and senior staff that disadvantaged students needed extra resources to compete with their more advantaged peers. In targeted schools we added hours to the school day , added days to the school year, added staff to implement innovative schedules, and increased the availability of summer school. These approaches made a significant improvement in the academic achievement of the students we were trying to help. But for the past six years, I have watched FCPS pull back those critical supports with noticeable negative results. Fiscal constraints were usually the underlying motivation. Sadly however, at the same time that these resources were being taken away from our neediest students, that very student population was steadily increasing.
Today, the political climate for public charter schools is so positive that new state and federal resources are offered to public charters that are not offered to traditional public schools. Public charters are encouraged to implement evidence-based creative non-traditional approaches. What a serendipitous opportunity for FCPS to re-institute the measures that we know from our own experience have worked well for disadvantaged students and yet not raise the per-pupil cost to the Fairfax County taxpayer! Why would any school system turn down that offer?
After all, FCPS already has a public charter school by another name, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. TJHSST receives more state funding than other FCPS schools, has a longer school day, an innovative curriculum targeting a particular student demographic, and draws students from all over the county (somehow FCPS has found the money for transportation). When TJHSST was initially proposed, critics worried that it would siphon off the best students in the system and that loss would seriously damage existing schools. I have yet to see such damage. What I do see is an increase of educational options for Fairfax County students. Yes, I see more choice for parents and students, more state educational dollars for FCPS and most importantly, more academic success.
The Fairfax Leadership Academy public charter school will be a new path to success for struggling students; it will bring new education dollars without raising local taxes, and give FCPS a chance to be the educational leader I know it can be.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at DelKKory@house.virginia.gov.