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Another Charter School?

Group proposes another charter school specializing in math, sciences.

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While the Richmond School Board and organizers of the Patrick Henry School haggle over the city's first charter school, yet another proposal emerges.

The Richmond Education Foundation plans to submit a proposal for a charter school in Richmond, possibly within the next few months, according to organizers of the project. The group registered its name with the State Corporation Commission in 2007 despite the existence of the similarly named Richmond Public Schools Education Foundation, which only recently reformed after a period adrift in a sea of financial questions.

Erhan Yilmaz, vice president of the new foundation, has the sort of experience and connections in the charter school industry to give this latest group effort the appearance of a chance. Yilmaz was a founding member of the Magnolia Foundation, a California-based charter initiative that operates six charter schools in that state, with charters granted for an additional 10 schools within the next five years.

“My relationship at the moment is that we'd like to take advantage of their experience,” says Yilmaz, no longer associated with the California group.  The Richmond initiative plans a 100-pupil program that spans middle and high school. “The model that they've developed over the years really seems to work,” he says of the California initiative.

Possibly giving a bit more buzz to the proposal is the planned focus of the school. Where Patrick Henry School for the Sciences and Arts rests its curriculum focus on go-green ideals and life sciences, the Richmond Education Foundation's planned focus is technology, math and hard science.

In another twist, that's the same focus former Mayor L. Douglas Wilder proposed three years ago — working with Virginia Commonwealth University to open a specialty high school for math and sciences.

The math and technology focus fills a critical need, especially for city children for whom university placement is an exception rather than a rule, Yilmaz says: “The U.S. is among the only countries where the younger generation is less educated than the older generation,” he says, citing Germany as the other major developed nation with that dubious distinction, according to international education studies.

Though in no way a city-university partnership, the latest effort does have a VCU connection. Alican Dalkilic, the foundation's president, is an assistant professor of psychiatry at the university. He laments that many Richmond children grow up surrounded by nationally ranked college campuses but never have the opportunity to attend.

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