Students at Albemarle County's Community Public Charter School

One of Albemarle County’s schools is moving.

In August, students who attend the Community Public Charter School — currently housed in the basement of Burley Middle — will go to class at Murray High.

“Right now, CPCS has a few classrooms dedicated to it in Burley’s basement, but beyond that there isn’t a strong sense of community and identity,” said Phil Giaramita,
spokesman for the school division. “It’s one of those moments where we’ve got a need for more classroom space at Burley … and maybe we can improve the overall situation for the charter schools, as well.”

Due to expanding engineering programming at Burley, the division recently informed CPCS that its Burley classrooms would no longer be available to Charter, which serves about 40 middle school students.

As a result, Charter has been working with Charlottesville-based mediator Bob Garrity to meet with students, staff, parents and CPCS’ School Management Team, which reports to the Albemarle School Board.

Ashby Kindler already serves as principal for both CPCS and Murray High.

“The common themes so far are that all schools want to maintain their own identity, they all want to use contiguous space and space that allows for ample movement in the classrooms, and they all want a space for large gatherings of students,” Kindler said.

Deb Donnelly, a parent of a Charter eighth-grader and member of CPCS’ School Management Team, said Murray’s current space configuration is going to be a challenge.

“The main thing we need to be sure of is that we guarantee CPCS adequate space to ensure it is having success meeting its arts-infused, project-based model,” Donnelly said. “We like to use contiguous space where all of our rooms are together, but I’m not sure if that’s possible in the current configuration at Murray.”

And despite the move, Donnelly said that co-locating CPCS in Murray “still might challenge us for our own brand and identity for the school.”

Kindler agreed.

“Ideally, CPCS would have its own home, but the space that’s available at Murray at this point seems to be the best alternative,” she said.

The Community Public Charter School is one of two charter schools in Albemarle County, the other being Murray High. Established in 2008, CPCS serves students in grades six through eight, many of whom struggled in the late elementary years and are at risk of falling behind their peers.

Teaching curriculum through artistic concepts, CPCS utilizes psychiatrist William Glasser’s Choice Theory, which allows students to choose their own paths to success within assignments and in their learning as a whole.

Murray students also are familiar with Choice Theory, and Donnelly said serving the two populations in the same building could potentially benefit the students.

“We send some of our kids to Charter for a different learning environment, but also for social and emotional development, so I think it would be good for the kids to have mentors and high school kids to look up to,” Donnelly said.

Giaramita agreed.

“The move would give the CPCS students a chance to see the Murray environment … and it strengthens the overall character of the charter community in Albemarle,” Giaramita said, noting that the effort would allow teachers from the two schools to share ideas more easily.

“For example, the mindfulness program at CPCS that could possibly be introduced at Murray, or the small grants for student projects at Murray that could possibly be introduced to CPCS students,” Giaramita said.

In addition to students and teachers sharing ideas and resources, Donnelly said she also is pleased that the principal — who currently splits time between the two locations — will be in the same building as all of the students.

However, due to the limited amount of space at Murray, Donnelly said she is concerned about CPCS being able to grow.

“Our original charter stated a goal of serving 100 students,” Donnelly said. “It’s just another consideration … but what does this move mean for the long-term future of the school?”

What’s more, while Kindler said the idea could present opportunities, she said she also has heard, in the information-gathering sessions, some apprehension about the age gap between students.

“Eleven-year-olds and 18-year-olds are vastly different,” Kindler said, noting that she hopes the move can be executed in an inspirational way that benefits all of the students in the building.

Murray High is also home to the division’s Enterprise Center, which is a short-term educational intervention program. The center, which Kindler also leads, will remain at Murray once Charter moves in.

The School Board is expected to receive an update on the process April 23.

As the move unfolds, Donnelly said she hopes CPCS and the School Board can collaborate.

“We’re founded with an agreement between the Albemarle School Board and CPCS’ School Management Team,” she said. “So far, all of our interactions have been with school division administration, but we’d love to be in conversation with the School Board itself.”