Members of the Patrick Henry School Initiative heaved a collective sigh of relief in October, when the Richmond School Board finally passed the group's charter school contract in a 5-0 vote. The school's prospects are looking up — for now.
The initiative and its members have endured a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs since the group's inception. Last May, the first School Board vote tentatively passed the charter school, 5-2, contingent upon coming to agreement on a suitable charter. At the second and more contentious vote in early September, the board deadlocked, 4-4, thus killing the issue — until the most recent vote of approval. Despite the back and forth, initiative members remain positive.
"We get down, but things happen to rejuvenate us and build us back up," says Susan Martin, vice president of finance for the initiative.
The charter school would serve city students in kindergarten through fifth grade, with an emphasis on sciences and the arts, in the Forest Hill-based Patrick Henry Elementary School building, which was closed in 2006.
"It seems like we have someone on our side," says Deb Butterworth, the initiative's new president as of Nov. 19. "We've had a string of successes lately. The contract was signed. We had a very successful volunteer rally where we increased our workforce from about 20 to more than 100."
Motivated initiative members hope to build on that momentum and meet the current projected school opening date of July 2009. The group knows the next steps won't be easy.
"We have a lot to do," Martin says. "The school building is empty now. We need to get it into shape and make it better than it has been."
The infused enthusiasm of new recruits and veteran initiative members will be vital in the coming weeks. The next task at hand looms large. In order to open the school on time, the initiative must raise $100,000 — by the end of 2008 (after this issue's print deadline). If the money doesn't come in, the group must send word to the School Board in January. The school's opening would then be bumped to July 2010.
Outgoing School Board Chairman George Braxton, who ultimately voted to support the charter, believes in the grass-roots initiative's ability to amass the necessary funds. "I believe they can, and I believe they are confident that they can," he says.
No one is more certain of meeting the challenge than Butterworth, a high school English teacher and the mother of two small children. "I am absolutely confident that we will do everything we can to meet the goal," she says.