Slow and deliberate

The first charter school in Prince William County will not be opening at the beginning of the 2003 school year. At best, the proposed Prince William Linguistic Academy will open in Sept. 2004, following a school board decision to postpone approval of the school’s application earlier this week.

While charter schools are designed as a creative alternative to a basic public school education, school board approval and taxpayer money make the stakes that much higher. Therefore, it was prudent for the school board to hold off in making a decision until its members are absolutely sure the proposed school will succeed and fit into the educational fabric of Prince William County.

Charter schools are privately operated using public funds which is why the county school board must sign off any application. There has been a large scale increase in the number of charter schools operating nationwide over the last decade. Many schools have excellent track records while others have never lived up to standard.

The proposal for the Prince William Linguistic Academy includes an ambitious regimen mixing students whose primary language is not English with English-speaking students who wish to be immersed in the instruction of a foreign language. Three hours of language instruction a day was to be provided to students learning English while English-speaking students would split their time between English and instruction in a second (or even a third) language. Other subjects would involve the two groups coming together for instruction.

There is certainly a need for language-intensive education considering the diversity of Prince William County and Northern Virginia not to mention the globalization of our economy.

If this educational concept is to become reality, however, there needs to be assurances that such a school will thrive. If that means delaying its opening or making small changes, so be it. This is something that has never been attempted here in Northern Virginia and there is little room for error.

The members of the school board will be accountable for any charter school they approve a detail that’s magnified considering the public money involved. Future charter school applications will be judged based on the criteria for acceptance used by the school board in their final decision. While they are traveling in uncharted waters, the school board should be commended for proceeding with caution.

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