Contract School Offers Exciting New Opportunity For County

Our school system began a journey down an exciting new path earlier this month when the Board of Education approved an agreement with Imagine Global Village Academy for the county’s first “contract” school.

Imagine Global Village Academy is not, as incorrectly identified in some media reports, a charter school. The agreement instead provides both the school system and Imagine with some opportunities not found in charter school arrangements.

First and foremost, the contract allows Anne Arundel County Public Schools to define the catchment area, or boundary, for the school. While contract schools are, in fact, public schools, they differ from charters in that the latter must allow students from across the county to attend.

Imagine, which is scheduled to open for 395 students in kindergarten through fourth grade in the 2011-2012 school year, will draw students from the Brock Bridge, Jessup, and Maryland City elementary school areas. This will help alleviate overcrowding at Brock Bridge and infrastructure issues at the three schools, all of which are at least 40 years old.

The smaller catchment area means that more students are likely to come from a single school, increasing the probability that we will be able to move some teaching positions from those three schools to Imagine and minimize additional costs in this regard that often come with charter school setups.

Imagine has also engaged a developer who will build the school and lease it back to Imagine at no cost to the school system or county. This is, obviously, a tremendous savings and will provide a state-of-the-art school facility that meets the needs of students at no cost to taxpayers. We estimate the offsetting cost of gaining a new facility such as this at between $13 million and $14 million.

While the school will be operated privately, Imagine has stated a desire to create an advisory board that will include school and community representatives who will assist in running the school. The collaborative relationship we have enjoyed with Imagine thus far should only be bolstered by such a board.

The school’s curriculum will dovetail perfectly with the Meade cluster’s International Baccalaureate offerings and Meade High School’s Homeland Security signature program. Imagine will employ the IB Primary Years Programme, providing continuity for students who wish to experience the Middle Years Programme and Diploma Programme at MacArthur Middle and Meade High Schools. Students who do not wish to continue on the IB track will still have the full range of our offerings as they move to middle and high school.

The school’s work in the sciences and languages will position us well as we see an influx of people and jobs from the BRAC initiative. It is a prime example of the types of public-private partnerships that we must foster to continue to move forward in today’s economic and technological climates.

While there are some concerns about traffic and development in the west county area, there has been an incredible amount of positive support from community groups for the program proposed by Imagine. I believe it continues our push for rigor, provides another outlet for public school choice, and gives us a much-needed facility in an area whose schools will benefit greatly from its presence.

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