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MARYLAND: Parents submit proposal for charter school with environmental focus

charter-school-environment-focusA small group of Washington County parents has submitted to Washington County Public Schools a concept proposal for a charter school with an environmental focus and a strong emphasis on hands-on learning.

Under state law, proposals for new charter schools go through local public school systems, and their teachers would be employees of the local public school system.

The Washington County Board of Education would vote on whether to approve the charter school proposal within 120 days of receiving the final application, according to the school system’s charter school application packet.

Danielle Campbell, a member of the group proposing the local charter school, said the group expects to submit its final application by May 1.

The proposal calls for the Antietam Environmental Public Charter School to open in August 2014 for kindergartners through third-graders. A grade would be added each school year until the school has grades K through eight.

The proposed school would follow the Expeditionary Learning model, which addresses five “key dimensions” of school life. One of those dimensions is learning expeditions, which connect students to “real-world issues and needs” with “rigorous learning expeditions, case studies, projects, fieldwork, and service learning,” according to Expeditionary Learning’s website at

The effort for the proposed charter school was started by eight “founding families,” six of which have children who are attending or would attend Washington County Public Schools, said Campbell, who lives southwest of Smithsburg. The other two Maryland families are interested in moving to Washington County if the school were to be approved, she said.

“We believe in the public school system, but we just feel that they need another, (to) offer a more innovative approach to learning,” said Brooke Johnson, a Hagerstown resident and another member of the group proposing the charter school.

The proposed charter school would give Washington County parents another educational choice for their children that would be tuition-free, Johnson and Campbell said. Interested students would be chosen through a lottery system if there are more applicants than spots available.

Campbell said the children of founding members would be exempt from the lottery and assured spots in the school because the founding members are setting up the proposed school.

“We’ve seen the success in other charter schools in the state, and even our neighboring Frederick County,” Campbell said.

Frederick County’s success

Frederick County Public Schools has two charter schools that have shown success and have waiting lists, Campbell said.

One of those charter schools, Carroll Creek Montessori Public Charter School, opened this school year, so its success is still to be determined, said Michele Krantz, Frederick County Public Schools’ liaison for charter schools.

The group proposing the Washington County charter school is searching for a school facility. The concept proposal notes two potential locations — the former Allegheny Energy headquarters on Downsville Pike and Shepherd’s Spring Outdoor Ministry Center near Sharpsburg.

Campbell said she doesn’t believe the Shepherd’s Spring facility would work, but the Downsville Pike site was a possibility. The group has a real estate agent helping to find potential sites, she said.

Campbell said neither she nor Johnson has prior experience with charter schools.

Two members of the group have been part of an effort to start a charter school in Maryland.

Djohariah Pfaehler, a Washington County Public Schools teacher who lives in Frederick County, said she assisted the Frederick County group with curriculum issues and became the group’s chairwoman. Pfaehler said she joined the Washington County charter school group after it formed.

Resumes included with the charter school proposal also include that of Krisna Becker of Clarksburg, Md., who was part of groups that tried to open a Frederick Outdoor Discovery Charter School in Frederick County, Md., and a Seneca Creek Charter School in Montgomery County, Md., according to her resume.

An application for a Frederick Outdoor Discovery Charter School has been denied twice, with the latest denial being appealed to the Maryland State Department of Education, Krantz said.

The Seneca Creek Charter School application also was denied, according to a July 2011 document found at the Montgomery County Public Schools website.

Campbell said the local families already had started their effort to propose a charter school in Washington County when they met Becker and she asked to help in their effort.

The effort for a Washington County charter school is separate and a different learning model than the Frederick Outdoor Discovery Charter School, Campbell said.

Antietam Environmental Public Charter School has a petition on its website,, where people can sign up to support the effort. The link to see how many people have signed the petition was not working, but Campbell emailed Jan. 3 that the petition had 90 signatures. The group also has a Facebook page.

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