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Charter school vs traditional school

Lexington Park, MD- Charter Schools are gaining national attention with the incoming Trump administration. President-elect Donald Trump is proposing $20 billion in federal money to allow low-income students to attend private or charter schools.

There is one charter school within St. Mary’s County Public Schools. The Chesapeake Public Charter School (CPCS) in Lexington Park opened in 2007. There are 380 students enrolled in grades Kindergarten through 8th, with more than 300 students on the waiting list.

The mission of CPCS is to offer students a unique learning experience. Students have a longer school year but a smaller classroom size. CPCS operates on an 11-month school calendar, from early August to mid-June. Education Director Angela Funya, “It’s a shorter summer break, but there is less loss of academics. They still get a lot of breaks through the year, but they’re spread out.” The classroom size is a 21 to 1 ratio. Funya said, “We can flex the schedule with specials and sometimes drop the ratio to 10 to 1.”

Carolyn Price, a mother of a 1st and 3rd grader said that was the biggest appeal when sending her kids to CPCS. “We love sending our kids here. The small classrooms allow for more teacher involvement and that’s a big appeal.”

The school focuses on Arts and Environment but follows the same Common Core State Standards. A big difference between CPCS and a traditional public school is how students are taught in the classroom. “One size does not fit all so we create a curriculum based on the same standards, it’s just really the delivery of how you’re presenting that to the students.” Funya said. 

The teachers collaborate at the beginning of the year to lay out the curriculum and identify which standards are going to be met throughout the year. The school calls this process “scrolling” and it’s all mapped out for the teachers, students and parents.

Another difference between CPCS and traditional schools are the report cards. “We do standards-based report cards, not grade based. We track the students’ progress toward the standards set at the start of the school year. It’s not about getting an A, B or C, it’s about how they’re reaching those standards.” Funya explained. Students at CPCS are also responsible for a growth portfolio to track their progress and show how they’re reaching the set standards.

When it comes to the academic achievements of the students, CPCS exceeds the state and county average for standardized test scores on every level. “We focus of helping the students to think critically, how to be creative in their thinking, how to problem solve and how to gather information.” Funya said. CPCS tracks student progress once they leave the school in 8th grade. On average, 17 percent of the students go on to other choice academies like the STEM program, the Academy for Performing and Visual Arts and the Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center.

CPCS is bound by the same rules and regulations as all public schools in St. Mary’s County when it comes to special education services. Currently, about 9 percent of students at CPCS have an individualized education program (IEP). The school does have special educators and a speech therapist on staff. There are also physical and occupational therapists available, as needed. Funya explains, “We try to work very closely with families to figure out what they need. We aren’t necessarily the best environment for every kid, some kids do learn very well in a traditional, structured environment. We’re not that structured. We’re glad we can provide a choice.” 

One downfall to CPCS is the lack of public transportation. Currently, the school is not able to offer busing to its students because it does not receive transportation funds. Next year the school plans to add a group bus stop coming from the north and the south, where parents can drop their child at the hub stop, instead of driving them all the way to school.

When asked about what parents should know about CPCS, Funya said, “I think the thing that hits you when you walk into our building is that it’s a joyful atmosphere. Very much alive. Art everywhere. The kids love coming to school here. They’re engaged here.” Funya also boasted about the relationships the staff builds with the students, declaring, “We know our kids, who they are and what they need.”

Carrie Rollins has children in kindergarten and 3rd grade. “It’s a community. We know the teachers, we know the staff. Parents are very involved and there’s always an open line of communication between teachers and parents.”

Admission for CPCS is based on a lottery system. Any family with students within St. Mary's County can sign up for the lottery, which begins Dec. 1 and runs through the end of the month. Parents are also invited to two open houses to learn more about the school, the teachers and the academics offered at the school, as well as parental involvement. The first open house is Dec. 1 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and the second is Monday, Dec. 5 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

You can find more information about the open houses and the open enrollment by visiting their web site.

Contact Joy Shrum at j.shrum@thebaynet.com

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