DATE: February 14, 2020
CONTACT: Phil Giaramita, Public Affairs and Strategic Communications Officer
Relatively Rare in Virginia: One School, Grades 6-12, Proposed to the School Board for the Division’s Two Charter Schools
(ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Virginia) – In would be a relatively rare innovation for Virginia’s public education system, the principal of Murray High School and the Community Public Charter School (CPCS) proposed to the Albemarle County School Board last evening that the two schools be merged into one beginning next August.
Students from the middle and high schools already share the same building within Murray High School, but students receive instruction in separate portions of the building. Currently, 81 students attend Murray and 58 are enrolled in CPCS.
Chad Ratliff, the principal of both schools, said, “We already are practicing and benefitting from increased collaboration among the faculties of our two schools. Students are beginning to work across grade levels to deepen their experiences with the highly creative, arts-based curriculum our schools share and with the value both schools place on individualized student learning projects, community service, and mastery learning.”
His proposal was in the form of an amendment to the Murray charter, which is before the School Board for its five-year renewal. The Board could decide to merge the two schools as early as their work session on February 27.
In a message to his school community, Ratliff said, “More closely sharing resources, teaching strategies, and ideas from our students as one school, from grades 6-12, not only will build upon the strong foundation for success now in place, but it will open up new opportunities for leadership, for the professional development of our teachers, and for the ambitions of our students. These possibilities have been informally discussed these past few months among our staff and students, yielding both high excitement and high expectations.”
Murray High School opened in 1988 as a charter school and the Community Public Charter school began operations in 2008. The schools were in separate buildings until CPCS moved into its present location in 2016. The unified school, if approved by the School Board, will continue as a charter school with its present focus on mastery learning and a project-based curriculum strongly influenced by the arts.
Innovation would not be a new concept for either school. Beginning in August, Murray will become the first school in the division to offer an International Baccalaureate program of studies. It also was the first public school in the nation to join the Mastery Transcript Consortium; the first to operate a middle and high school squash program; and the first to partner with both MIT and the University of Virginia (UVA) on research and assessment activities to enhance its student-centered curricular focus.
“Currently, we are partnering with UVA on a significant grant application that will provide new insights into the processes, practices and policies that improve education for students, educators, schools, families and communities,” Ratliff said, adding that the potential benefits could serve as a model for how schools across the country can match their curriculum with the professional skills now in high demand.
Average scores by both schools on the state’s required Standards of Learning (SOL) tests this past year exceeded their counterparts across the state. Compared to two years ago, applications to the two schools have grown significantly, from six new applicants for CPCS to 130 this year, and from 12 new applicants to 90 for Murray High School.
As lead teachers Julie Stavitski, from CPCS, and Josh Flaherty, from Murray, told the School Board last evening, “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 further solidify the work we have been doing and also will create opportunities to further unite our student body as one community.”
Ratliff said that, if approved, the school community would come together to recommend a new name for the school to Superintendent Dr. Matthew Haas.
“As impressive as our progress has been these past few years, joining our two schools together will take our capabilities to a higher level,” Ratliff said. “One of the most important functions we serve is as a Laboratory School, where our work with mastery learning and an interdisciplinary approach to instruction can be informative for other schools in our division. A merger not only will improve learning experiences for our students, but it will increase opportunities to share best practices with other schools in our division,” he added.
Pictured: Stephanie Passman, Head Teacher, with Chad Ratliff, Principal, Murray High School and CPCS