The Albemarle County School Board extended Murray High School’s charter through Aug. 1. It had expired in February 2017. Credit: Credit: Josh Mandell, Charlottesville Tomorrow

While drafting a new school charter to better prepare its students for the future, Murray High School has found inspiration in the school’s original planning documents from 30 years ago.

Albemarle County’s public charter schools, Murray High and the Community Public Charter School, are designed to serve students at risk of dropping out or failing to reach their full potential in traditional schools. Murray enrolls 100 students and CPCS enrolls 38. Both are located on Forest Street in Charlottesville.

Murray opened in 1988 and was granted approval by the county School Board to operate as a charter school in 2001. 

A 1987 plan for the “Murray Educational Center” calls for the use of the “community as [a] school” through internships, job shadowing and service-learning projects, and promotes “hands-on learning, application of concepts and interdisciplinary teaching.”

“There are remarkable similarities between the vision and mission in those documents and [the vision of] High School 2022,” said Kate Acuff, chairwoman of the School Board.

High School 2022 is the county school division’s plan to meet new high school diploma requirements set by the Virginia Department of Education, which will be applicable to students starting ninth grade this fall. 

Albemarle’s new high school program will include a freshman seminar to promote academic readiness, new co-taught interdisciplinary classes, expanded opportunities for community-based projects and internships, and a senior capstone experience.

Chad Ratliff, principal of Murray High School and CPCS, on Thursday gave the School Board an annual briefing on the two charter schools. 

Ratliff said both schools would continue to pursue objectives for charter schools outlined in Virginia state code: “to stimulate the development of innovative programs within public education [and] provide opportunities for innovative instruction and assessment.”

“We are thinking about returning to a way that allows us to be very deliberate in what that looks like, while remaining connected to school division goals,” Ratliff said in an interview.

The School Board voted to approve a request from Ratliff and Superintendent Pam Moran to extend Murray’s charter through Aug. 1.

Murray was due for a charter extension in February 2017. Phil Giaramita, spokesman for the division, said Murray’s School Management Committee did not bring a renewal request before the School Board by that date. He said the oversight did not disrupt the school’s operations or its curriculum.

Ratliff became Murray’s principal last summer. He succeeded Ashby Kindler, now the division’s coordinator of federal programs. 

“The charter extension by the School Board will give us time to build out our school management team, and begin the process of reflecting on the past and looking forward to the future,” Ratliff said. “We will identify opportunities to be a center for excellence and instructional innovation with regards to student-centered, self-directed learning.” 

“Murray’s size and its mission make it the perfect model for our schools in terms of how to more fully engage students with a more contemporary learning environment,” Acuff said in an email to Charlottesville Tomorrow. 

In December, the School Board voted to pursue the phased construction of satellite high school centers to facilitate experiential learning and address the division’s enrollment capacity needs. The board’s budget request for fiscal 2019 includes $607,000 to open a small “pilot center” this August on leased space.

CPCS began operating within Burley Middle School in 2008 and relocated to the Murray campus in 2015.

In December, CPCS was selected as one of two schools in the country to work with the MIT Teaching Systems Lab to develop “embedded” assessments for the school’s maker curriculum. The partnership is backed by a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The embedded assessments will be incorporated directly into makerspaces and STEM learning activities, allowing teachers to monitor student learning in real time. 

Murray and CPCS’s educational philosophies are based on Choice Theory, a concept created by the late psychiatrist Dr. William Glasser. The schools employ a mastery learning model that allows students to redo assignments and retake classes until they achieve a B grade or higher.

“Our students learn that they have the capacity to move in and out of situations and circumstances on their own free will,” Ratliff said


Josh Mandell graduated from Yale in 2016 and has been recognized by the Virginia Press Association with five awards for education writing, health, science and environmental writing and multimedia reporting.