Currently viewing the tag: "Frederick County Board of Education"

James Rada Jr.

There will be a charter school in Sabillasville next year. When the Frederick County Board of Education approved the charter for the Sabillasville Elementary School in September, it came with two conditions: (1) It can show there are 161 students who will attend the new school by December 1; and (2) The new school can find a suitable site.

The enrollment has been the condition that has caused the most concern since it was the low enrollment at Sabillasville Elementary School that led to discussions about closing the school in the first place.

The enrollment target needs to be hit because funding is based on the school’s enrollment. That is the number of students needed to ensure enough funding for the school to operate properly.

The parents’ group that formed to develop the charter school has been soliciting commitment letters from county parents, stating that they will send their children to the new charter school.

“We have 164 as of right now, but more are coming in,” said Alisha Yocum, president of Sabillasville Elementary’s Parent Teacher Organization and head of the citizens’ group. Interest in the new school has come from parents all over the county.

The higher the enrollment for the new school, the more per-pupil funding the school will receive. This can help the school meet its future enrollment targets and also have some surplus funds to use if issues arise during the school year. The citizen’s committee that put together the charter is also planning on applying for grants and running a fundraising campaign to help create more of a cushion in the finances.

The plan calls for the new environmentally-focused school to serve grades K-8, although it will serve only K-6 students next year. The three-year charter plan calls for additional grades to be phased in 2023 and 2024. Seventh grade will be added in the second year of the school’s operation, and eighth grade in the third year. The student:teacher ratio will be 23:1. This is where the first year target enrollment of 161 students comes from.

Enrollment will be something the charter school staff will have to watch each year.

“We will need to make sure we can fill the incoming kindergarten class with 23 students,” Yocum said. “And if anyone leaves or moves, we would hope to have a wait-list so those can be replaced as well.”

With the second condition, 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 is expected to be used for the charter school. Although the board of education could vote to do something else with the building, no other parties have expressed an interest in it.

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.

Community Still Hopes for Charter School

James Rada Jr.

The Frederick County Board of Education voted to close Sabillasville Elementary School at the end of the 2020-21 school year. The vote was 5-1, with member Rae Gallagher the only opposing vote.

However, the Sabillasville community holds onto hope that the board will approve a charter school for the building. A group of Sabillasville citizens has submitted a concept proposal to Frederick County Public Schools (FCPS) for review and planned on submitting a full application by the end of December.

The proposed charter school would be called the Sabillasville Environmental School. It would be a Kindergarten through eighth-grade school, with roughly 23 students per grade. It would begin as a Kindergarten through sixth-grade school and add grades seven and eight in years two and three.

“We want to offer a classical curriculum similar to what the Frederick Classical Charter School offers, with a focus on the environment,” said Alisha Yocum, president of the Sabillasville Elementary Parent Teacher Association. “Given where we are located, we want to reconnect students with nature and agriculture.”

The curriculum, as Yocum explains it, would be based around history, and all the classes will gear their lessons to what history is being taught at the time. The school would also teach the Singapore Math program.

Yocum said that parents of current students in Sabillasville Elementary are overwhelmingly supportive of the idea.

“We want the building to remain a school and serve the community,” Yocum said. “It’s the heart of our community.”

The citizens group has been working hard to pull everything together that is needed to get approval for the school and get it up and running without having an interruption in the students’ education between this year and the next.

The board of education vote hampers that. The Sabillasville parents had wanted the board to show their support by following a part of the state law that allows a public school to be converted to a charter school. This would have simplified the charter process and guaranteed current Sabillasville students a seat in the new charter school.

Superintendent Theresa Alban said she had contacted the Baltimore City school system where schools had been converted, and her belief was that it wouldn’t work for Sabillasville. She said for a charter school to be accepted in Sabillasville, the proposal would have to show that space was available in the town, and the only way to do that was to close the school. However, this also means that the Maryland State Department of Education will have to grant a waiver for current Sabillasville students to be given priority in a new charter.

The group has retained a lawyer to appeal the board’s decision and have a conversion charter school considered. You can donate to the group’s legal fund by mailing a check to: Sabillasville Elementary PTO, 16210B Sabillasville Rd., Sabillasville, MD 21780. You can also donate on the group’s GoFundMe page posted on its Facebook page.

The 56-year-old school has been in the crosshairs for closure for years. Board member Brad Young said it was one of the first topics discussed when he was elected in 2010.

The most-recent discussions about closing the school started in early 2020 when enrollment numbers showed the school had only 70 students. The board’s projections show that shrinking will continue, and in ten years, the school would have only 53 students. This affects how many teachers can be assigned to the school, which has led to some combining of grade levels. The cost of maintaining the aging facility was also cited as a concern. According to the FCPS, it has the third-highest maintenance costs of any school in the system.

Strong community support during that time caused the board to delay its decision as other alternatives were investigated.

The board was supposed to hear an update on the application at its November meeting. However, Alban decided this would create a conflict of interest since the board would also have to make the decision on whether to approve the charter.

“In no way do we wish to deter their efforts, and we would certainly welcome any movement that they want to make towards possibly submitting an application for a charter school,” Alban said.

She did review the results of a survey of Yellow Springs Elementary parents about whether they would support sending their children to Sabillasville Elementary if it was an open-enrollment school. Yellow Springs’ parents were the only ones surveyed because Yellow Springs Elementary is the only overcapacity school within a reasonable distance of Sabillasville. While other nearby schools are overcapacity, their problem will be alleviated when Blue Heron Elementary opens.

Of the 143 parents surveyed, 83 percent said they wouldn’t send their children to Sabillasville. Most parents had transportation concerns, particularly the length of time their children would have to ride the bus to and from school.

During the meeting, it was pointed out that the board hadn’t received any public comment about closing the school. This is because parents had been told there wouldn’t be a vote.

“We were not informed they would be making a final vote on November 23,” Yocum said. “I think the community should have been informed. We would have been there.”

Thurmont Commissioner Marty Burns agrees. During a recent Thurmont town meeting, he said the reason the parents were told there wouldn’t be a vote was because the board knew the Sabillasville community would show up in opposition.

“They didn’t want the opposition,” he said. “They took a quick vote outside the public eye. I bet if it was Urbana, [the board] wouldn’t have even thought about doing that.”

He and some of the other commissioners called it a rushed decision since the new board of education members were sworn in just two weeks later.

Thurmont Commissioner Bill Buehrer said during a town meeting that he wasn’t surprised at the decision and that it was based on politics, not education.

“I feel sorry for the families in Sabillasville,” he said. “You got hoodwinked. You know it, and the public knows it. Not a damn thing you can do about it because they already voted on it.”

Young said FCPS will need to determine whether it has another use for the building. If not, which is expected to be the case, the property is turned back over to the county. The county would then offer the property for sale or lease. This is the point where the new charter school will have to act to secure the property, and it could find itself competing with another business for the property.

Buehrer said that if the community’s charter school application fails, Sabillasville Elementary students will be “embraced” in Thurmont.

“We’ll do whatever we can to help your kids get a good education,” he said.

James Rada, Jr.

For the first time since the Frederick County Board of Education put off making a decision about whether to close Sabillasville Elementary School (SES), the board discussed the topic during its work session.

Some of the possible ways to keep the school open include:

Using the school as an agricultural center;

Turning it into a magnet school;

Adding career and technology services;

Adding a RISE program to the school; and

Making the school an “open enrollment” school.

Superintendent Theresa Alban cautioned the board in its approach to saving the school. She said during the board’s October work session, “I don’t want to go down the road of ‘let’s find ways to fill up the building.’”

The major problem facing the school is that it has seen declining enrollment. Last year, around 70 students were in a building rated for 160 students.

When the possibility of closing the school was raised last school year, the Sabillasville community rallied to fight the closure. The board relented and decided to address the issue later after examining possible ways to keep the school open and utilize the extra space. The school remains open this school year, but the board’s goal is to make a final decision on what to do by December.

The option of turning Sabillasville into a charter school seemed to be the idea that has the most support among the board.

Carroll Creek Montessori Public Charter School was considering the property, but Superintendent Theresa Alban said the school is also considering other locations.

However, Alisha Yocum, president of the Sabillasville Elementary Parent Teacher Association, said the community’s concern about the school becoming an existing charter school is “it really doesn’t become a community school at that point because we’re not really being involved in the decisions.”

She said community members and parents are developing the idea of creating a new charter school that would be located at Sabillasville Elementary.

If the board pursues this option, it would take time and raise additional questions of how students would be accepted to attend the school. It would also want to ensure students living in Sabillasville could still remain in their community school.

“The chartering process is quite lengthy and complex,” Board President Brad Young said.

If the school were to become an open-enrollment school, where students from overcrowded schools could attend, those students would come from outside of the Catoctin High School district because all of the schools in Northern Frederick County have excess capacity. This means the transportation costs would increase, and those students would have very long bus rides to and from school.

The board is planning on surveying parents of students in overcrowded schools to see how many of them would be willing to send their students to Sabillasville.

Board documents about the options indicate using the school as an agricultural center has problems. “To operate this center and maintain the elementary school operation would be challenging; it would also not address the dwindling enrollment numbers for SES. This option does not change the deferred maintenance needs,” according to a review of options in a document on the board’s website.

Expanding career and technology programs into the school would require modifying the school without addressing the declining enrollment program.

“I just want to commend everybody for thinking outside the box. The school is really a jewel in your community, and I’m all in favor of keeping community schools as long as we can,” said Board Member Lois Jarman.

The board will take up the issue again this month once it has had time to get feedback from parents in other schools about their interest in sending their students to Sabillasville.

James Rada Jr.

It will definitely be a different year for education as schools work to balance education with coronavirus restrictions and parent concerns.

When school starts in Frederick County Public Schools (FCPS) for student instruction on August 31, it will be without the usual pomp of parents taking first-day-of-school pictures and seeing children off on school buses. The Frederick County Board of Education decided in July that all students would learn remotely for at least the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year. Also, all athletics and extracurricular activities are suspended for this semester.

While the spring may have been hectic and confusing for students, the board of education announced it used feedback from students, parents, and teachers to improve virtual learning. According to the board, the enhancements include:

•   Increased live virtual interactions between students and educators.

•   A single, digital platform for students and parents to access instruction, communication, and feedback.

•   Robust professional learning opportunities for educators to increase their skill set for teaching in a virtual environment, which includes on-demand professional learning videos and courses for educators.

•   Student training videos that will enhance their abilities to access and learn in a virtual environment.

•   Strategies to focus on individual student needs.

•   Continued efforts to ensure every child can connect digitally.

According to a press release from the FCPS, students “will engage in a combination of real-time virtual instruction, instruction on an individual schedule, and completion of assigned tasks. In addition to teachers and school counselors, online learning mentors will also support students, offering designated office hours.”

Also, the grading system will return to normal.

Mother Seton School in Emmitsburg is offering students the choice between remote and classroom instruction. Parents decided which way they would like to have their children educated in the middle of August.

This decision was made in consultation with the Archdiocese of Baltimore and in seeking recommendations from public health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and our state and local health authorities. The school will reopen for instruction on September 8.

“For parents who prefer in-school instruction, recommended and appropriate safety measures are in place, including the wearing of masks, social distancing measures, and enhanced cleaning and disinfection of the school and buses,” according to a release from the school.

Parents are not locked into their choice.

Principal Kathleen Kilty wrote in a letter to parents, “I understand that as the school year progresses, you may want to switch from in-person learning to remote learning, or from remote learning to in-person learning. One switch will be permitted. Additional switches will be discussed and decided on a case-by-case basis. It is important for the students and teachers to have consistency, and it is equally important that students participate in the best possible learning option.”

Both FCPS and Mother Seton School say they will reevaluate conditions as the school year progresses.

On Friday, June 3, 2016, volunteers of Sabillasville Elementary School were honored with breakfast and a video made by all the students. It was a time to meet other volunteers who may be on different schedules.

The school qualified for a Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) certificate. This certificate is used when the Frederick County Board of Education discusses school closing, grant writing, and other decisions made for the local school.

To qualify for this certificate, a school must have twice the number of volunteer hours as there are students. Sabillasville Elementary needed 236 hours to qualify, but totaled 1,676—quite an accomplishment!

Each volunteer received a pin, along with a certificate designating their number of volunteer hours and signed by President of the Board of Education Brad Young and by Superintendent of Schools Theresa R. Alban.