It didn’t take long for Cary’s newest school to garner attention.
Cardinal Charter Academy opened at the corner of Harrison Avenue and NE Maynard Road last month with 661 students from Durham to Clayton. Dozens of kids are on the school’s waiting list, according to principal Crystal Scillitani.
“I could have doubled our kindergarten enrollment,” she said. “We expected some students to drop, but that hasn’t happened either.”
Cardinal Charter – which offers kindergarten through sixth grade and plans to become a full middle school in the coming years – is the second charter school in Cary.
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Triangle Math and Science Academy moved to Cary from Raleigh last September and expanded to become a K-8 school this year.
Cary is known for having high-achieving public schools. Some of the best-performing schools are in the western part of town, and some are overcrowded.
Cardinal Charter leaders see a market for parents in eastern Cary who want their children to receive a more personalized education without paying tuition for private schools.
Charter schools receive public funding, and they are free to attend. Parents are typically required to be more involved because charters don’t get public money for buildings, food or transportation services.
Many charters are part of an education management organization that provides guiding principles and pays for necessities like food and infrastructure.
Cardinal Charter is part of Florida-based Charter Schools USA Inc., which built the school and paid to put three tablets and five laptops in each classroom.
Extra resources are a plus, said Scillitani, who worked as principal of Efland Cheeks Elementary School in Orange County before taking the reins at Cardinal Charter.
But the main draw of charters, she said, is that they are able to be more flexible than traditional schools when working with students.
Cardinal Charter caps class sizes at 21 students for kindergarten and first-grade classes, 23 students for grades 2-5 and 25 students for sixth grade, she said.
While the academy must follow a curriculum set by the state, it doesn’t have to “follow pacing guides that tell teachers where to be at day 80,” Scillitani said.
The academy is also exempt from paperwork that often comes with promoting students past their grade level or placing a student at the front of class if his parent requests it, she said.
With the extra academic freedom comes extra responsibilities and higher expectations.
Cardinal Charter has longer school days than most, starting at 8 a.m. and ending after 3:15 p.m.
The school only hires teachers who are certified, Scillitani said, and expects all students to pass end-of-grade tests.
“We’re trying to fill in the cracks so no kid gets lost,” she said. “Our mindset is 100 percent achievement.”