Operators of a charter high school that was set to open this fall at Westfield Annapolis mall have delayed its opening until the fall of 2025, citing difficulty in finalizing a lease as the mall goes through a possible sale.

Romey Pittman, a veteran educator who heads New Village Academy, and Darius Stanton, the governing board’s president, relayed the board’s decision in a May 16 letter to Mark Bedell, superintendent of Anne Arundel County Schools, and Robert Silkworth, the school board chairman.

“Everything was just about done,” Pittman said Sunday night, calling the delayed opening “a very sad thing.”

She and Stanton wrote that the mall’s owner, Westfield/URW, abruptly froze lease negotiations for 30 days for space that the school was planning to use, preventing operators from knowing whether a planned lease and occupancy would be allowed until mid-June — “too late in the year for us to take that risk.”

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The lease lockdown came just as operators had gotten confirmation of permit approvals and been assured that a lease was forthcoming, they wrote.

“So we were devastated to learn of this sudden turn of events, just when we were celebrating that we had finally overcome our months-long difficulties,” Pittman and Stanton wrote. “We have spent the past 4 days investigating ways to circumvent this lease lock-down, but have been unable to secure any likely pathway to a solution.”

Westfield representatives couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Sunday.

Pittman, the sister of County Executive Steuart Pittman, left her teaching job at Annapolis High School last year to help launch the nonprofit school for grades 9 to 12.

New Village Academy would be the first charter school to open in Annapolis since KIPP Academy closed more than 15 years ago. She envisioned placing an emphasis on internships, apprenticeships and mentoring.

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“If we can acknowledge work that students are doing and base our credits on where kids know how to do something, it both holds the traditional classes accountable for actually producing results — which is not always happening right now — and it allows students alternative ways to earn credit,” Romey Pittman said in a 2023 interview. “So that frees up students to be able to do a lot more, a lot of other things besides sitting in a classroom.”

The county school board approved plans for the charter last summer, with the county and the state to provide operating funds. The charter has been raising money for construction and planning.

The school was set to open in fall 2024 with 150 students, the Capital-Gazette reported last year, operating with small classes and advisers who stay with groups of students all four years.

Pittman and Stanton wrote that the school determined in February that it could not open on time in space previously occupied by Lord & Taylor, its preferred permanent home, so it pursued temporary space in the former Nordstrom department store. The school also negotiated potential leases for two alternate Annapolis sites, but one had limited space and another would have created a difficult transit scenario for some students.

Families were notified last week of the lease issues. The school held an open house and a virtual Q&A, and it surveyed families about the possible new locations, Pittman and Stanton wrote.

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“While over 70% of families who responded to our survey were willing to make either location work (primarily car riders), those 22 respondents were not sufficient for us to be confident of full enrollment for the Fall,” they wrote. “We were also concerned that the move would disproportionately affect lower-income families who are more likely to rely on public transit to attend New Village Academy.”

The organizers expressed optimism that the school would finalize a lease with the current mall owner if the sale doesn’t go through, or restructure it with a new, locally based owner.

The school had started hiring teachers and was concerned about how the delay would affect them. “We immediately contacted those most vulnerable in this change and have been assured that, while disappointed, they are not left without a job,” they wrote.

The vote by the school’s governing board came Thursday. Most of the families who responded to New Village Academy’s survey said they would be interested in attending next school year.

“We are confident that this decision, while deeply disappointing to all of us who have worked so hard to bring New Village Academy to fruition this fall, is the best one for New Village Academy, for AACPS, and ultimately for families and staff in the long term,” they wrote.