Private schools set for growth

A key backer of the Wake school board majority will build high schools for science and technology.

STAFF WRITERSeptember 9, 2010 

  • What: Inaugural lecture on "AmericanExceptionalism," along with information on new Thales Academy high schools.

    Who: Thales founder Bob Luddy anddirector Kent Misegades

    When: 7 tonight; doors open at 6:30p.m.

    Where: Haile Cultural Arts Center, 237 N. Salem, Apex

    Cost: $5

    Online: www.thalesacademy.org

Conservative businessman Bob Luddy, a high-profile figure in the debate about the future of the Wake County public schools, will build on the success of his three private Thales academies by opening high schools in Rolesville and Apex, he said Wednesday.

At an event today in Apex, Luddy will offer details of a technology and science concentration - to be called the Luddy Institute of Technology - to be featured at his planned high schools. Land has already been purchased in Apex and Rolesville for the new schools, which will serve grades 6-12, and the existing schools will educate children from kindergarten through fifth grade, Luddy said.

Luddy, the largest donor to the majority on the Wake County school board and to groups that support it, also founded St. Thomas More Academy, a private Catholic school in Raleigh, and the Franklin Academy, a charter school in Wake Forest.

School board Chairman Ron Margiotta served as a board member for the Thales Academy in Apex until the panel was dissolved last month. Some opponents of the Wake school board majority have called it a conflict for Luddy to be involved in public, private and charter schools, which receive public funding but operate independently of the school system.

"They all offer separate choices for parents and students," said Luddy, who founded CaptiveAire, self-described as the "nation's leading manufacturer of commercial kitchen ventilation systems."

"If you look in private industry, you have an array of choices. If you only have one school system, you don't get the same choice or growth," he said.

The current Thales academies are in Apex, Raleigh and Wake Forest, and they will add eighth- and ninth-grade classes to their current configuration during the next two years, Luddy said. With the opening of the high schools, Thales will introduce the Luddy Institute of Technology, a curriculum designed to give students high-level science and math courses while fully preparing them for college. Another track will be academic, with advanced placement courses, Luddy said.

"It's very hard to know in the ninth-grade what direction to go in," he said. "We want to make sure that they are fully prepared to go to college."

Motives questioned

Elena Everett, program director at the nonprofit advocacy group Action for Community in Raleigh, has helped organize protests in which opponents of the school board were arrested in acts of civil disobedience. She questioned Luddy's motives for his involvement in Wake schools.

"I keep wondering what his role is in investing in candidates who are elected to the school board, when he's involved in revenue-producing private schools," Everett said Wednesday. "It has to bleed over. It's just a conflict of interest."

Luddy has been portrayed, along with longtime Republican leader Art Pope, as a behind-the-scenes mover and shaker bent on destroying public schools.

Explaining his stance on public schools, Luddy said parental choice should be the most important consideration in how schools are set up. And if no one chooses public schools, the institution could disappear, he said, adding one condition.

"As long as there was an opportunity for all students to go to school," he qualified. "There has to be a mechanism for all children to be educated."

Everett and others say the candidates backed by Luddy and Pope are leading Wake County schools to erase decadeslong efforts to reinforce socioeconomic diversity in each school. Those concerned about the creation of high-poverty schools under a new assignment plan focused on sending students closer to home are protesting too late, Luddy said.

"I'm concerned that it already exists, and we are not doing anything about it as a society," he said. "There's no plan released at this point, but whatever plan is released has to improve that situation."

thomas.goldsmith@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8929

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