Small Class Size Means Big Improvement at Charter School
Dinan, Stephen, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
HAYES, Va. - Victory Academy, Virginia's first public charter school, is giving a second chance to about 50 Gloucester County students who would otherwise have fallen through the cracks.
Charter schools have taken off in the District, where the range of choices goes from back-to-basics schools to schools that specialize in educating black male students.
But Maryland and Virginia have been slower to come around.
The 20 eighth-graders, 20 ninth-graders and 12 students working toward a general equivalency diploma (GED) at Victoria Academy don't have discipline problems and aren't learning-disabled. What they are is unreached by the regular schools, says Shirley Cooper, the coordinator at Victory.
"They have programs for gifted students, they have programs for special education, for automobile mechanics, for the chorale folks. But you have not provided a program for that average [student], normal but not motivated and sometimes with an attitude," Mrs. Cooper said.
That, she says, is what Victory can provide.
Last week, a Maryland Senate committee failed to act on a bill that would have let charter schools apply for federal funds, and Northern Virginia localities have moved slowly, with Prince William County announcing it won't establish charter schools and other school boards still deciding.
Victory, which occupies two offices in an office park in Hayes, an hour east of Richmond, opened as an alternative education program for the 1998-99 school year, and was approved as a charter school this year. A second charter school, the Blue Ridge Technical Academy, should open in the Roanoke area in the fall.
The key to running the school, said Mrs. Cooper and Wayne Fox, an administrator who handles disciplinary matters for the county school system, is class size, flexibility and parental involvement.
But the key for getting students back in shape for learning is structure. Students wear a loosely defined uniform - a shirt with a collar and khaki pants. They record what they did and what they learned every day in a binder called their "agenda." They work on their study habits.
"A lot of students can do the work, but they get lost in a class of 25 or 30," Mr. Fox said. So Victory caps its classes at 10 students, meaning teachers know exactly how far along with the lessons each student is. If individual students are slow with any concepts, they will make them retake the lessons as many times as necessary to make sure the students learn them.
Students at Victory begin their day at 8 a.m., have four hourlong classes in the morning in science, math, English and history, have lunch, then spend the afternoon in tutoring or at physical education. They use the same textbooks and cover the same lessons as students at Gloucester High School, where they will return after Victory.
The tradeoff, though, is students at Gloucester earn seven credits while students at Victory only earn five. …