A renewed effort to bring an all-boys charter school to Richmond faces an uphill battle as the city school system’s leadership opposes opening such a school.
Richmond Urban Collective gained city School Board approval in 2015 to open the charter school — dubbed Metropolitan Preparatory Academy — for boys in grades 6-12. Those efforts stalled when the group couldn’t find a building to house the school.
The group, which ultimately will need School Board approval, is hoping new leadership can finish what it started. But Jason Kamras, who took over as superintendent of Richmond Public Schools last year, said the division has no plans to accommodate such a request.
The coalition of business leaders announced this week that Antione Green, the co-founder and former CEO of Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts, the city’s first charter school that opened in 2010, will take over the startup process.
“Being familiar with me and my experience with the other charter school in Richmond, they decided to join forces to make this school a reality,” Green said. “We’re ready to move forward and are excited to give parents an additional option.”
The effort, though, will face resistance.
“We have no plans to open any charter schools,” Kamras said.
Kamras highlighted the district’s strategic plan, which calls for a complete shake-up of the district’s underperforming middle and high schools with themed schools that focus on such topics as international affairs and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
“I have spent my entire professional career serving in traditional public schools,” he said, “and I am 100 percent committed to ensuring that RPS remains a traditional public school system.”
In response to Kamras, Green said: “Our goal is to make a strong case to city families who have a desire for a high-quality middle school option. We want to help keep families in our city and help sustain our tax base.”
The superintendent and the majority of the city School Board are also opposed to an effort led by parents of students at Patrick Henry to open a charter middle school, saying a new charter school would take away money from the seven middle schools already in the district. Green is also helping with that effort. Currently, no middle school in the city meets the state’s full academic standards.
Dawn Page, the chairwoman of the School Board, did not return a request for comment Thursday.
In a split vote in March 2015, the body conditionally approved the charter school’s application but required Richmond Urban Collective to find a building by that August, which didn’t happen.
“I thought it would fill a gap in the community,” said Kristen Larson, who voted for the application when she served on the School Board. She has since moved on to the City Council.
In the school’s initial application, Richmond Urban Collective said the school would have 100 sixth-grade students in its first year, a cohort chosen through a lottery system.
Up to 85 percent of the school’s population would be low-income, according to the application, and it came with an annual price tag of $7 million, according to news reports at the time.
While the school didn’t secure a building, which still hasn’t been done, board members at the time questioned its finances and ability to have programs for special education students, among others.
“It didn’t seem viable,” said Kim Gray, who served on the School Board at the time of the vote, on Thursday. Gray, who also now sits on the council, was one of two votes against the school’s application.
No member of the 2015 board that approved Metro Prep is still on the board.
Virginia and five other states leave the decision on whether to authorize a charter school solely to each school board, something charter school advocates say has resulted in the small number of charter schools in the state — eight.
“We just want to give parents option for their kids,” said Shanee Harmon, Richmond Urban Collective’s vice president. “Richmond is ripe for this.”
Green, the new leader, said the next steps for the school are to build up community support, a similar message being shared about the charter middle school he’s also pursuing, and convince the School Board, which would fund the school, that it’s a good idea.
There is currently no money in next year’s city schools budget for opening either school.