In order to save their elementary school, members of the Sabillasville community are racing against the clock to apply for their own charter and create their own version of the Frederick Classical Charter School by the end of the year.
The community decided to pursue this option after other ideas to keep the school a part of Frederick County Public Schools were rejected by the Board of Education.
To get started, community members learned about the classical school curriculum at a presentation Thursday night given by Tom Neumark, founder of FCCS.
Classical school education is arranged in three stages called the trivium. It consists of grammar, logic and rhetoric. Each stage corresponds to a specific age group based on development.
The community workgroup for the charter application also plans to bring in an environmental science aspect to the curriculum.
Alisha Yocum, president of the Sabillasville Elementary Parent Teacher Organization, said there is a desire for the new school to reflect the rural community it’s in.
“We want to take advantage of our community; we have all these resources we can offer,” she said.
Heather Sparkman, a parent of Sabillasville Elementary student, said she felt very informed after the presentation.
“[Neumark] gave us a lot of information that I think we needed to clarify as parents just to kind of figure out what the curriculum was and how different it was going to be,” she said. “I was concerned about how they are going to transition from public school to the charter school, but he seems adamant that everybody will be fine and that it will be an adjustment.”
During his presentation, Neumark said that students are typically behind when they start the classical curriculum, but teachers will be trained to adequately bridge the gap.
In order to successfully get their charter school started, the community must apply for it by Dec. 31—the date by which the Board of Education has said they will make a decision on the school.
Applying for a charter is an arduous process and involves many steps.
“It’s a big endeavor, so if you really want it, you’re going to have to work really hard for it,” Neumark said.
Yocum said the biggest hurdle she anticipates will be figuring out the budget for the future school, particularly pertaining to the physical space.
“We have a lot of unknowns with the building and how we might be able to work out those agreements with Frederick County Public Schools,” she said.
If the charter application is approved by the board, the new school will most likely open in the fall of 2021, according to Yocum. The goal is to have the school hold grades kindergarten through eighth. Those submitting the charter application also plan to apply for a “conversion charter” that will allow all students in the Sabillasville district to automatically gain admittance to the new school if they wish.
Students who do not live in the district but wish to attend will be chosen through a lottery, similar to how other charter schools in the county operate.
But there is a possibility the board could choose an alternate option for the school.
In addition to the charter school idea, the board is also considering allowing open enrollment at the school.
Open enrollment would allow students from nearby crowded schools to attend Sabillasville Elementary. School superintendent Terry Alban has said that if this option is chosen, families who choose to attend Sabillasville Elementary will be provided transportation.
Surveys were recently sent to families whose children attend Yellow Springs Elementary School to gauge interest in an open enrollment option.
Yellow Springs Elementary is approximately 18 miles south of Sabillasville Elementary, and according to Alban, the school is currently at 119 percent capacity.
Other nearby schools considered were Walkersville Elementary School and Glade Valley Elementary School, but surveys were not sent there as the schools are currently under capacity.
Alban said in an email that there are several other schools that are over capacity this year, but they were not considered as their enrollment will be alleviated by the opening of Blue Heron Elementary School next fall.
Yocum said she has concerns about the open enrollment path.
“With the open enrollment solution I’m concerned that that’s a short-term solution, and in two years, they could come back and say this isn’t working financially or we don’t have enough students and we’re going to be right back in the same boat,” Yocum said.
When asked if she and others would prefer the school simply staying as is, a part of FCPS, Yocum said it’s complicated.
“Originally we all went into this hoping that ... we stay a regular Frederick County Public School,” she said. “We’ve gone through this emotional rollercoaster so many times that the charter school is looking more and more appealing because it would be a more permanent solution for our community in keeping the school the center of our community.”
Sparkman said that as much as the road ahead will be difficult, she and others in the community plan to keep the survival of their school the top priority.
“We’re just still fighting. We’re still here, and we’re still fighting,” she said.