Cary News

Morrisville charter school denied approval, looks to go private

Morrisville’s Kaleidoscope Charter High School was denied a charter Thursday by the State Board of Education, the final authority in granting state charters, despite a recommendation from the Department of Public Instruction’s charter school advisory board earlier this year.

Kaleidoscope was hoping to become the first high school in the town of Morrisville, which is primarily served by Green Hope and Panther Creek high schools, both in Cary. It was the school’s third attempt to secure a charter.

Members of Kaleidoscope’s board said in the spring they would consider incorporating Kaleidoscope as a private school if it failed to earn a charter this year, with an eye to a charter conversion later on. Time would have been tight, regardless of the outcome of Thursday’s decision, given the charter school board’s desire to begin classes in August of 2017.

“It’s definitely a different year, because in the past, these decisions have been made by Christmastime, so it’s been a long process,” said Morrisville Mayor Mark Stohlman, who is a member of Kaleidoscope’s board. “It was already a significant hurdle to get things up and running in 12 months.”

Janet Littlejohn, president of Kaleidoscope’s board, said she remains committed to opening the school in 2017 as a private institution. Fundraising and efforts to court investors will take on greater significance, though, now that state money is no longer in the picture. Charter schools receive public funding but are operated by independent governing boards.

Just eight of the 28 schools before the state school board were granted final approval to begin operations and receive state funding in the 2017-18 school year. Of the 20 denied, six, like Kaleidoscope, had been recommended for approval by the advisory panel.

Of those approved, three are in the Triangle: Durham’s Discovery Charter School, Clayton’s Johnston Charter and Rolesville Charter Academy in Wake Forest. Three others – Peak Charter Academy in Apex, Pine Springs Preparatory in Holly Springs and Cardinal Charter Academy in Knightdale – had been approved to open this year but were granted delays allowing them to open in 2017.

In April, the advisory board recommended approval for Kaleidoscope in a 7-3 vote, with several board members expressing reservations about the specificity of the operational and academic plans presented in the school’s application for a charter. Kaleidoscope’s application had been rejected twice in previous years before reaching the advisory board.

Each of the schools granted charters Thursday had been approved unanimously in the advisory board stage.

“The hoop is a little bit higher now,” Littlejohn said. “They do want more proof, and they do want schools that are going to be successful, because they do have charters out there that have problems.”

Littlejohn called the state board’s reasons for denying Kaleidoscope’s charter “flimsy” and said she hoped the state would soon come to see the merits of the “student-centered” approach outlined in Kaleidoscope’s application. Littlejohn teaches at Sterling Montessori Middle School in Morrisville, which uses an educational style similar to that proposed for Kaleidoscope.

Littlejohn also disputed comments made by board members during the April advisory hearing concerning typographical errors in Kaleidoscope’s application, which she said might have compromised the state’s impression of her board’s competence. She said the typos were in the application itself, not in the answers she and her board provided.

Stohlman was not at Thursday’s board meeting but said he is anxious to sit down with the rest of the board to determine what kept the school from approval.

“I’m disappointed,” Stohlman said. “We’ve worked very hard for a number of years, but we’re going to keep moving forward to get a high school in Morrisville. I hope the county continues their commitment to getting us a public school as soon as possible.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Janet Littlejohn’s position with Sterling Montessori. She is an assistant teacher.

Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan