Summer break started weeks ago, but Southern Wake Academy students Mary Jo Notini and Anna Katherine Griffin were taking instruction in the school’s hallways on a recent Tuesday morning.
The rising seventh graders, wearing matching pink outfits, were part of a group of students and parents who put a fresh coat of paint on the middle school walls.
Mary Jo and Anna Katherine had never painted a wall before. But they said they were up for the challenge because they love their charter school.
And because their volunteer time would count toward the 30 hours of community service they’ll need to advance to eighth grade next year.
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“I like it because it’s a small school, so you get to know everyone here,” Anna Katherine said of Southern Wake Academy.
Soon, she and her friends will have more schoolmates to talk to and new halls to walk through.
Southern Wake Academy, a middle and high school located in trailers off of N.C. 55 between Fuquay-Varina and Holly Springs, will enroll 330 students this fall – a school record and about 90 more students than it had for the school year that just ended.
This time next year, the school will be nearing completion of a new $5.4 million facility that it plans to break ground on next month.
The school is attracting students from Wake, Chatham, Johnston and Harnett counties, according to Carroll Reed, the school’s director.
He attributes the school’s growth to its small class sizes and an emphasis on social development. Classes max out at about 17 students, Reed said.
Each student must complete community service to advance to the next grade level, and each high school senior must work as an intern for 265 hours in order to graduate.
Students are also required to keep records of their grades and school projects as part of a portfolio that must be presented to parents and advisers each quarter.
“They’re actually making a portfolio presentation of some of their work, what they’ve been successful doing, what kind of community service they’ve done, what their grades are and what they’re going to do to improve next quarter,” Reed said.
He said the school attracts many students who were previously homeschooled, bullied or need extra attention from teachers.
“It’s very fulfilling to listen to these kids who are timid and shy stand up and give a presentation to teachers and parents,” he said.
The school garnered attention in 2012. In addition to adding a middle school, the high school was named an Honor School of Excellence by the state – the highest possible designation – and was given a Bronze Award by U.S. News and World Report.
“Parents have been our main source of advertising as the school has been successful academically,” Reed said.
Founded as Community Partners Charter High in 2000, the school struggled for the first several years, Reed said.
In 2006, the school’s board of directors hired Reed, who had worked as principal of Fuquay-Varina Middle School for 16 years.
Since then, the school’s graduation rate rose to 83 percent in 2012 from 56 percent in 2007. Meanwhile, the number of students passing standardized tests increased to 91 percent from 49 percent.
Southern Wake Academy added the sixth grade in 2012, seventh grade in 2013 and will begin teaching eighth grade this fall.
The school might pose a challenge for its 126 new students, said rising senior Jonathan Mangum.
But Mangum, who had high praise for the school’s tutoring program, said he thinks they’ll like the welcoming atmosphere of a homeschool community and the resources of a charter school.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” he said.