by Zoe Tillman
A new public charter school opening in fall 2011 on Joint Base Andrews will not only feature staff specially trained to meet the needs of military families, but also, with 35 percent of slots reserved for non-military families, bring the community in to what base commander Col. Kenneth R. Rizer acknowledges can seem like a "fortress."
Imagine Andrews Public Charter School will be the first school located on base since 1979, when the public school there that had existed since the 1950s closed, Rizer said.
"We'll be building a lot more connections with student-to-student [relationships]," he said. "There can be an impression that because of the security at Andrews, it's this fortress. I think it's a two-way street, and it's going to break down some of those barriers."
The Prince George's County Board of Education voted Nov. 11 to approve the charter school's application. Nonprofit organization Imagine Schools will run the school; Imagine already runs Lincoln Public Charter School in Temple Hills and Imagine Foundations Public Charter School in Upper Marlboro.
Imagine Andrews is scheduled to open in the fall as a kindergarten-through-fourth-grade elementary school for 265 students, according to Imagine Regional Director Patrick Crain. A grade will be added each year, with the expectation of being a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school serving about 500 students.
According to figures provided by Rizer, there are about 300 elementary school-aged children and 80 middle school-aged children within the 820 households on base. With 642 airmen and sailors living on base deployed abroad as of this month, he said, many children have at least one parent overseas.
"We've had some issues in the Air Force with what we call ‘family resiliency,' " Rizer said. "One of the big benefits of having the school on base is the teachers and administrators are going to be trained in how to understand and identify and help these kids deal with the stress of having their father or mother in a combat zone."
Crain added that many of those same resources could benefit non-military families.
"The big focus of this school is to educate students of military families in a way that really takes into consideration the issues that military kids face," Crain said. But, he added, those same resources can also benefit "students that could come to our school from the wider community dealing with stressors."
Non-military families will need to pass some kind of security clearance before entering the base, according to Rizer, although base officials and Imagine are still hammering out the details of how that will work. Crain said they plan for parents to have access to the base during school hours and for events.
Military families and non-military families will be chosen via lottery, as required by state law. The school will not serve all students living on base, who can still attend other county public or charter schools.
About 350 students from Andrews attend Prince George's County public elementary, middle and high schools, according to statistics provided by the school system.
Imagine Andrews will initially be housed in modular units, but Imagine plans to have a new building completed by 2014. The cost of the total project is still being tallied, but the school system will pay Imagine $8,000 per student annually, totaling $2.12 million for the first year, which is the Maryland Department of Education's standard rate for charter school funding.
School board member Donna Hathaway Beck (Dist. 9), who voted in favor of the application, said she was impressed that Rizer and other base leaders spoke in favor of the proposal at the meeting.
One of the elementary schools Andrews students attend, Francis T. Evans Elementary School in Clinton, is overcapacity, she noted, so the new school may also help relieve crowding.
"The fact that your upper brass all showed up [to the Nov. 11 school board meeting] in uniform saying, ‘We support this' ... you can't have a much better community endorsement for an initiative," Beck said.