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Virginia District Pushes Plan to Convert 10 Schools to Charters

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In an effort to raise graduation rates and student achievement, one Virginia school district is moving forward with a plan to convert 10 schools into charters by the fall.

The move, championed by Samuel King, superintendent of the 32,000-student Norfolk public schools, is made possible by a change in Virginia law, which takes effect July 1, that allows school boards to approve conversion charters—traditional district schools to be turned into charters.

The 10 schools—a mix of elementary, middle, and high schools—have already been selected by the district, and under the plan, each will have themed curricular programs. For example, if the plan is approved, three of the schools have an International Baccalaureate focus and three will have a Montessori focus.

The plan must first be adopted by the school board, which will start making decisions after the new law is in place next month. The Virginia Department of Education, which does not have to approve the move, has already voiced its support for the plan, dubbed the Norfolk Public Schools Transformation Initiative.

According to the plan, the schools will open in August with their new themes in place for the 2013-14 school year. "Further modifications to the school calendars will phase in for the following school year," according to the initiative's website.

In addition, King wants to start an "open campus" high school in the fall of 2013 to try to help students at risk of dropping out and re-engage those students who have dropped out. The school would provide flexible scheduling, such as early morning and evening classes, and individualized learning plans for each student. Educators are currently looking for a location for this school, which may not be located in a school building but rather in some other type of space, such as a shopping mall or office building, according to the district.

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