James Rada Jr.
The Frederick County Board of Education voted last month to conditionally approve the charter for the new Sabillasville Environmental School. This will give the school three more years to prove it can attract additional pupils who want to receive an agriculturally focused education.
The conditional approval depends on two things: (1) The new school can find a suitable site; and (2) It can show there are 161 students who will attend the new school by December 1.
The Sabillasville citizens’ group that put the charter proposal together plans to use the existing Sabillasville Elementary School for their new school, but this is not a given. The Frederick County Board of Education first has to vote to close the elementary school. Once that is done, a process is started to decide what to do with the building. It could be used for the Sabillasville Environmental School, but the board members pointed out that another charter school has also shown some interest in the site. Board President Jay Mason said the board could not guarantee the building for the Sabillasville Environmental School.
“We called all three charter schools in Frederick, and they told us they are not interested in the school because it’s too small,” said Alisha Yocum, president of Sabillasville Elementary’s Parent Teacher Organization and head of the citizens’ group. “We’re not sure why suddenly this is coming up again.”
The citizens’ group had hoped the board of education would grant the school a conversion charter that would allow the elementary school to transition into the charter school. Some confusion still remains over whether state law allowing for a conversion charter would apply in this situation and who has the authority to make the decision.
The board intends to sort this out, and if it is applicable, members seemed willing to go this route, which would provide the new school with the building the citizens’ group wants.
As for reaching the school-needed-enrollment number, the citizens’ group has been working toward that. The number needs to be reached so that the school receives enough per-pupil funding to operate. With the current enrollment at less than half of the needed 161, it seemed a daunting task to reach in a short time. However, after Superintendent Teresa Alban made her recommendation of conditional approval to the board in August, the citizens’ group has been soliciting letters of intent from county parents to show they would be willing to send their children to the new school. Yocum said that as of September 18, the citizens’ group had 105 students whose parents wanted to send them to the Sabillasville Environmental School, which does not include the students currently enrolled in the elementary school. This would bring the potential enrollment in the new school to around 175 students.
“We have interest from all over,” Yocum said. “Woodsboro, Middletown, Myersville, Frederick, and Thurmont. Parents are very interested in the environmental and agricultural part of the curriculum.”
With the board’s conditional approval, the citizens of Sabillasville overcame a large hurdle toward keeping a school in their town. Now, they have to continue the momentum and meet the conditions that came with the approval.
“It’s exciting,” Yocum said. “I can’t wait for all the unique opportunities and experiences we’ll be able to provide kids.”
These individuals are some who played a vital role in supporting and planning for Sabillasville Elementary School’s future: (from left) Abbey Sparkman, Kelsey Norris, Heather Sparkman, Justus Yocum, Alisha Yocum, Bryce Yocum (in front), Robbie Koontz, Shelby Green, Barb Doney, Eli Yocum, Colleen McAfee, and Tanzy Logue.