VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has made school choice and charter schools part of his education agenda. He wants $150 million to establish 20 new charter schools, including “laboratory innovation” schools, in Virginia. The state Senate killed (SB 125) charter school bill, but the House of Delegates bill (HB 356) for charter schools is still pending.  

That does not mean we don’t have charter schools already. We have two in Hampton Roads: York Academy Regional Charter School and Green Run Collegiate (GRC) inside Green Run High School in Virginia Beach. 

This week, 10 On Your Side spent nearly three hours at Green Run Collegiate for an exclusive tour of the school, and on Jan. 17, Youngkin touted how great the school is in his address to the Joint Session of the Virginia Assembly.

“We are joined today by the students of Green Run Collegiate in Virginia Beach… They provide access to every child in the school district to attend the collegiate program… They have an innovative curriculum. They provide access to every child in the school district to attend the collegiate program. They’re thriving and their parents are thrilled… So please join me in welcoming these future leaders to our Commonwealth’s Capitol,” he said to great applause in recognition. 

In attendance was Green Run Collegiate teacher and parent Asia Mainor, whose daughter attends the school.

“She couldn’t have passed the test to get into Ocean Lakes High School or to get into Princess Anne High School. Here, she was given the opportunity to have an international baccalaureate education and she has grown so much,” Mainor said.

Mainor understands that some people believe charter schools take away public funding from public education.

“As long as it doesn’t take money, then I am in agreement with charter schools. But if it is like I’ve seen in other states where they pull that money from public schools and we no longer [have access that money] then I am not in agreement with it,” Mainor said.

In this case, GRC is in Green Run High School. They share food services, bus transportation, and central office support. GRC shares teachers with Green Run High School in physics, performing arts, and ROTC. Green Run High School, in turn, shares security, extracurricular activities including sports, and technology services with GRC. 

Here’s what separates GRC from other charter schools: All the students are chosen to go to GRC by a lottery. They are chosen in the blind lottery where random names are pulled. They fill out an application. Roughly 125 are chosen each year. It’s luck of the draw, and there are no interviews, test grades, or requirements. Every student in the Virginia Beach City Public Schools has the opportunity to go to GRC.   

10 On Your Side visited the Design Technology class where students learn to understand and apply elements of design including technology.  

All 380 students in ninth through 12th grades learn under the International Baccalaureate Program, which also develops intellectual, emotional, and social skills.  

 What is International Baccalaureate? This is an explanation from the IB program:

“The International Baccalaureate (IB) offers a continuum of international education through four challenging, high quality educational programmes to students aged 3 to 19… An IB education also fosters diversity, curiosity and a healthy appetite for learning. Schools must be authorized to teach our IB programmes.” 

10 On Your Side spoke with 11th-grader Jett Bugarin.

“When you take the IB program and people know they, like, say, ‘Oh he’s a great student in a rigorous program… I feel like there are a lot of opportunities to collaborate here and I’ve learned to communicate with teachers and other faculty members as well as my peers,” Bugarin said.

MaKenzie Joyner-Cassanova, a senior, also had feedback about the program.

“We get to see every corner of an idea, every perspective, and I don’t think other schools can provide that… My teachers are much more engaged… I have made lifelong friends here. Everyone is here to support each other,” Joyner-Cassanova said.

Collegiate has a governing board of directors, uses public school funding, and hires their own teachers with the flexibility to provide innovative education.  

“We need to have that strong relationship with the local school division. That is key,” Virginia Beach City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence said.

In Virginia, charter schools must charter through local school boards. It is a partnership providing additional school choice.  

“The good charter schools that I have worked with are run by educators and people who knew how to work with children.” Spence said.

Spence has extensive experience managing charter schools in Texas and North Carolina.  

“Where I saw charters struggling [was] when they were run from an enterprise perspective. They were really looking to make money and saw charters as an opportunity to do that,” Spence said.

“We wouldn’t be successful without the support of our public school system,” said Head of School Rianne Patricio, who has been with GRC since it opened in 2013.  

She said this charter school doesn’t take anything away from public education — it is public education.

“The foundation board members, the governing board members and the school board members are on the same page, and they communicate so well,” she said. 

In the end, GRC gives flexibility and opportunity to try and to fail with a new idea, and then to try again. 

“We have permission to fail forward. we have permission to try new things. To be innovative and if we fail, that’s ok. We reflect and we grow from it and we move on,” Mainor said.