Cary News

Morrisville charter school application denied fourth time

Kaleidoscope Charter High School’s fourth attempt to become Morrisville’s first high school was rejected Thursday.

A subcommittee of the Charter Schools Advisory Board reviewed the application Thursday and did not grant the approval needed to advance in the application process. They voted 4-2 not to invite the school’s representatives back for an interview in front of the full advisory board.

Tuesday, thesubcommittee also rejected first-time charter applicant CE Academy. The K-5 school would have opened in Cary and offered a Chinese/English dual-language program.

Kaleidoscope’s rejection, however, came less than six months after the school’s third application was voted down by the State Board of Education.

Charter schools receive public funds and do not charge tuition. They’re not restricted to many of the guidelines traditional public schools follow. But they must go through a rigorous approval process at the state level before opening.

Last April, a similar application from Kaleidoscope won approval from the full advisory board in a 7-3 vote. The charter was eventually rejected by the Board of Education in August, but Kaleidoscope’s backers and board members had hoped this year’s application would advance to the same stage as last year’s – in front of the State Board of Education.

But most of the subcommittee’s members expressed dissatisfaction with the explanation of the school’s proposed student-centered educational style, which combines traditional direct instruction with project-based and self-directed learning.

Janet Littlejohn, president of Kaleidoscope’s board of directors, said this less-structured approach is difficult to describe in abstract terms. But Eric Sanchez, a member of the charter schools advisory board, said other Montessori-style schools have better executed this approach.

“This application, when we compare it to stellar applications, wasn’t written in a way that showed clearly what they would do,” Sanchez said. “The fact that we’re still discussing the educational plan right now demonstrates a lack of clarity and depth.”

Several board members also said they found the testing goals outlined in Kaleidoscope’s application – 70 percent of its students proficient in math after five years – weren’t ambitious enough.

Board members who were sympathetic to the part of the application that spoke to the need for a high school in Morrisville, where Kaleidoscope hopes to open. Morrisville students primarily attend Green Hope and Panther Creek high schools, both in Cary.

Littlejohn said that her application team had tweaked the document to address previous concerns that it had not clearly outlined students’ daily schedules. But she said she had not been prepared for this body’s concerns about student achievement standards.

“I didn’t realize that 70 percent was not going to fly with them,” Littlejohn said. “I thought it was being realistic and gave us the ability to grow.”

While advisory board member Alan Hawkes was skeptical of the student-centered, informal learning style proposed by Kaleidoscope, he was the only member to speak in favor of advancing the school’s application to the full board. Hawkes also took issue with the bluntness of comments made by Sanchez, who was firm in saying Kaleidoscope’s application doesn’t merit further consideration.

“If I may remind the board, our mission is to ensure the existence of high-quality charter schools – it’s not to work for their non-existence, to not give people a chance,” Hawkes said. “I’m troubled by the votes and the attitudes of some of my colleagues.”

“That’s out of line, Alan,” replied Alex Quigley, chairman of the advisory board. “This has been professionally evaluated, and this has been a professional dialogue. I think everyone observing would agree.”

Littlejohn, agreeing with Hawkes, said she feels the subcommittee treated Kaleidoscope with “negative attitudes.”

But Littlejohn said she expects to bring the application back for a fifth time next year.

“If my team is willing to stick with me, I’m willing to do it again,” Littlejohn said.

As for the CE Academy, advisory board members praised its “innovative” bilingual concept but said that the application doesn’t provide many details about how the school would meet state standards.

“Understanding the global environment we’re in now, it would be beneficial for students to be able to speak and write Chinese, and that’s commendable,” said board member Joe Maimone. “But as a whole, the application, it’s rough around the edges, to put it nicely.”

Western Wake County is home to several charter schools and will add two more this fall.

Pine Springs Preparatory Academy will open in Holly Springs in the fall and will be one of the first in southwestern Wake County to serve elementary school-aged children.

Peak Charter Academy, another charter school, also is expected to open in August in Apex and will eventually serve K-8 students.

Both delayed their openings after experiencing challenges in securing sites.

Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan