When Jennifer MacFarland saw a homework assignment her grandson, then in second grade, brought home in 2020, she was concerned. And MacFarland, a former teacher, assistant principal, and charter school CEO with 30 years in public education under her belt, was also suspicious.
She sent a right-to-know request to the West Chester Area School District and found a company providing training to teachers was teaching Critical Race Theory, which she believes is filtering down into the curriculum for the students.
“That’s what really got me started,” said MacFarland. “Because the more I found out what was going on in the West Chester Area School District, the more I felt compelled to open a charter school.”
So, MacFarland took action.
First, she convinced her grandson’s parents to enroll him in a Catholic school. Then she began to work on opening a charter school.
“It took us three years to find a building,” she said. Having a building is required before a group can apply for a charter school charter. And when they did, Valley Forge Classical Academy Charter School was born. The West Chester Area School Board must still approve it and MacFarland, who is the VFCACS board president, hopes it will open its doors in 2024. Her brother, Charles F. Beatty, is the board vice president. Beatty was an Avon Grove School Board member for eight years.
“We are a Hillsdale College-licensed curriculum school,” said MacFarland. “The curriculum is a truly classical education, based on classical literature and history as told by original documents of the time. Singapore Math will be the math program, (which is) a highly recognized and effective program.
“We will teach reading through phonics and science through the core curriculum,” she said.
Students will be reading books that have long been recognized as great literature. Elementary school students will read “The Velveteen Rabbit” and “Aesop’s Fables.” Older students will read Homer and Mark Twain, she said.
“I believe it will be a great school,” said MacFarland.
Also, students will learn Latin so they can understand the roots of many English words. History will be the 1776 curriculum from Hillsdale, not the controversial 1619 curriculum from The New York Times. Art, music, and physical education will be taught.
“All programs are recognized as high quality, engaging, and rigorous. Teachers will teach via the Socratic Method, leading the instruction (cooperative dialogue based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and finding truth). VFCACS will also teach and reinforce core values that are identified with every culture on earth…wisdom, integrity, honesty, compassion, hard work,” said MacFarland. She noted the people who founded the U.S. were educated using the Socratic Method.
“It’s a much more thorough way of learning,” she noted.
She said the school will start as K through 8 and will add grades each year until it is K through 12.
If parents are interested in sending their children to VFACS, MacFarland recommends supplementing what they are being taught in their current school with Hillsdale’s homeschool curriculum to “make sure our kids are ready because, quite frankly, we are concerned their education at this point hasn’t brought them as far as it should be.”
Hillsdale, a classical liberal arts college in Michigan, provides that curriculum for free, she said.
“I recommend that parents look into that and hopefully supplement what they’re learning in the public school or what they’re doing in home school so they can ensure their kids will be ready for the grade they’ll be placed in.”
Computers will be limited as well. But cursive writing will be taught.
“At this point, most students, especially most students in Chester County, have access to computer technology,” she said. “In fact, many of them are on computers way too much.
“Our philosophy is you don’t need computers to learn,” she said. “You need the basics of education. You need to learn deeply and have a rigorous education that helps you learn how to think on your own without depending on technology.”
Anita Edgarian, a WCASD parent, said, “An alternative for our kids’ education is always a good thing, especially when parents can’t afford private schools. I personally like the traditional approach to education, (such as) books, and notebooks, logic and Latin classes, handwriting, limited time on electronics, building relationships, etc.
“This would be an accepting and comfortable environment for all children to thrive and grow their love of learning, free from the pressures of the world,” she added.
MacFarland would like to eventually open similar charter schools across the state that offer “a high-quality classical education.” Also, nonunion teachers will be hired.
The Valley Forge Classical Academy Charter School will hold an open house from 1 to 3 p.m. on Feb. 25 at 21 Hagerty Blvd. in West Chester. [email protected] or (610) 730-6931.