A second charter school will open in Johnston County in 2017, this time in Clayton.
During its August meeting, the N.C. Board of Education approved Johnston Charter Academy and seven other charter schools to open for the 2017-18 academic year. The decision follows a nearly year-long process that saw 28 applications submitted last September.
An advisory board recommended the state approve 14 of the applications; the board of education ultimately OK’d eight. Emereau: Johnston was another school vying for a charter in the county, but its application did not receive the advisory board’s blessing.
For nearly a decade, Neuse Charter School in Smithfield has been the county’s lone independent public school, boasting a waiting list for admission but currently on probation with the state following a bad audit. Johnston Charter Academy plans to build in the Clayton area, drawing students from the county’s quickly growing western side.
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“We were very excited for the final approval,” said Stefanie Rachis, a Shaw University administrator who will serve as president of the Johnston Charter board. “Our board’s focus was to be able to provide school choice to parents in Johnston County. ... We wanted to provide that school choice to parents closer to Clayton.”
Johnston Charter, which will be part of the National Heritage Academies network of charter schools, received a unanimous recommendation for approval from the charter advisory board. The board cited a need for a second charter in Johnston County and the thoroughness of Johnston Charter’s application.
Rachis said the school will now move to secure a location and begin construction on a building. While the school is being built, the board will need to bring to life a school that currently exists on paper and do so to the satisfaction of the state by next summer.
“We are currently hiring our school principal, which is very exciting,” Rachis said. “We will begin the ‘ready to open’ process in the next few months with the Office of Charter Schools.”
The new charter will open with 576 students in kindergarten to sixth grade. By its third year, it expects to add seventh and eighth grades and increase enrollment to 744.
Five schools applied to open in 2017 under the “Emereau” moniker, a mash-up of the last names of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. In February, the advisory board backed two Emereau schools, in Bladen and Halifax counties; the board encouraged the others to try again if the first such schools proved successful. This month, the state board of education signed off on just one of the Emereau applications, in Bladen County.
Charter school veteran Kate Alice Dunaway, who has started and run schools in southern and western North Carolina, will serve as executive director of the Emereau system. She said the group would likely apply again for Johnston in a couple of years.
“We will continue to pursue a school in Johnston County; this is not going to deter us,” Dunaway said. “We are very excited about opening in Bladen County.”
Dunaway said the state’s rejection of most of its applications was surprising, especially in Halifax; the advisory board had said that Halifax, along with Bladen, needed a charter school. But the board was worried about the group submitting five applications at once and was concerned about enrollment projections and an education plan declared a failure by external evaluators. The advisory board credited Dunaway with making the school’s plan appear more viable.
“It’s always a disappointment when you’re hoping to provide exceptional opportunities for children, and that doesn’t happen,” Dunaway said.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson