Albemarle County’s two charter schools want to become one school that would serve middle and high school students.
Chad Ratliff, who is principal of both schools, pitched the idea to the School Board on Thursday night. Several teachers, students and parents supported the merger during public comment, saying that it makes sense organizationally and operationally.
Ratliff wrote in a letter to the board that the merger would create a more effective model for Murray High School and the Community Public Charter School.
“A joint charter school would enhance efficiency of operations and provide innovative opportunities for coordinator of education programs and curricula,” he said.
Ratliff took over the schools in June 2017. The schools both have seen an uptick in student interest, which he has attributed to their focus on student-centered and project-based learning.
What the merger would mean for middle school students who want to attend Murray for high school is still being figured out.
Ratliff said that if all the middle-schoolers wanted to attend Murray, there might not be space for other students. He said the schools will form a committee to address that question by next school year’s admission cycle.
“We all operate under the same philosophy and increasingly find ourselves working together to achieve the shared mission of the two schools. Officially merging into one school will only further solidify the work we’ve been doing, and will also create opportunities to further unite our student body as one community,” said Julie Stavitski, the lead teacher at CPCS. “For us, it just makes sense to be one school.”
Josh Flaherty, a teacher at Murray, said there’s already collaboration among the middle and high school teachers and that some teachers lead classes in both schools.
The combined school would be called Murray Community School, according to the presentation. Currently, both are co-located at a facility near Rose Hill Drive.
“We already operate as a 6 to 12 lifelong learning community,” Ratliff said.
He added that the name would be a placeholder as Murray is on the list of schools subject to a naming review.
The board authorizes the charter for Murray and CPCS, so it must approve the merger. The high school’s five-year charter was renewed in August 2018, while the middle school’s charter is up for renewal in September. Both schools serve as a laboratory for innovation in the division.
School Board Chairman Jonno Alcaro said the board will discuss the merger at its next meeting.
CPCS was redesigned for the 2018-19 school year. Now, students learn the state standards through an integrated approach that crosses subject areas. At more traditional schools, standards are typically taught in isolation, such as in an English or math class.
Murray opened in 1988 and CPCS opened in 2007. Before the 2015-16 school year, CPCS moved to the Murray campus from Burley Middle School.
CPCS co-founder Sandy Richardson supported the merger in a letter read during public comment and said Ratliff’s proposal reflects the original plan for the middle school.
“It’s easy to give my blessing for their plan,” Richardson said in the letter.