Charles County students interested in art programs, such as voice, dance, theater and instrumental music, may soon have another option as far as attending a public school beginning in sixth grade.
The county school board voted to approve an application for the Phoenix International School of the Arts during a board work session on Monday, making it the first charter school in the district.
The decision came after the board denied a different application for Motivated Empowered Arts and STEM Public Charter School in January. While the point of contact for that school has the option to reapply, at this time the board has not received another application.
Kim Hill, superintendent of schools, recommended the board approve the charter to the Phoenix art school with several conditions, including the school be limited initially to middle school grades. Any student enrolled in Charles County public schools may apply to attend.
According to a presentation by Angelica Jackson, the intended executive director of the school, the Phoenix art school will open in the 2022-2023 school year as a middle school serving grades six and seven, with the intention of expanding the following year to include eighth grade as well. The plan is to eventually be able to serve grades six through twelve. Located in Waldorf, the school will count as the school system’s ninth middle school.
The institution will have an arts-focused program of study using the Cambridge International Education curriculum that meets Maryland State Department of Education and Charles public school system’s course and assessment requirements. The curated arts curriculum will include programs such as voice, dance, theatre, visual arts, instrumental music, and museum studies and new media. Students will be asked to choose one of the pathways to stick with throughout their time at the school.
“Families want to feel that they are part of a close-knit community, they want to be seen,” Jackson said to the board. “They value intentional school-wide integration of the arts, both as a curriculum and instructional method.”
She noted the school developed a digital petition which gathered 285 supporters. While the school will have room for 125 students in the beginning, Jackson said “if we should receive more applications … a lottery will be done to identify the founding families” with the rest being placed on a waitlist. The current plan is to open the application process in August and perform the lottery in February if necessary.
The school is looking to lease a building previously used by the College of Southern Maryland and the University of Maryland Global Campus.
“We have identified a facility and are negotiating the lease,” Jackson mentioned.
Jackson also shared with the board the school will receive a $900,000 charter school program grant, which would bring funds not normally available to Charles County into the district.
“You certainly did your homework,” Michael Lukas, board member, said. “The fact that you have this grant and have things in order,” it seems it won’t take away from other students in the school system.
Board member Elizabeth Brown said she “can’t wait” until the school is able to open.
After some discussion, the board unanimously agreed to approve the application with the provisions recommended by the superintendent.
The next step will involve the board and the school’s administration formalizing the approval in a charter agreement, setting out the legal requirements, expectations, conditions and deadlines for the school’s operation.
“We are just so excited for this opportunity,” Jackson shared with Southern Maryland News on Tuesday. She said while the school model was being developed before the COVID-19 pandemic, it really “made it apparent we need a school like PISOTA.”
The art school already has a hybrid model, to make learning as inclusive as possible for all types of families and circumstances.
“The board of education realizes the importance of an innovative teaching model,” she said. “What families want can really be reflected in the school system. Community members have been asking for an art school in Charles County.”
She shared when she was younger, she always wanted to attend an art school. Since there wasn’t one available, she made a business plan and worked with several mentors on it over the years.
“It’s a full circle moment … I’m humbled to be a servant in the community,” Jackson said. “This is a historic year and moment for our little town.”