Midtown Raleigh News

Raleigh could get two new charter schools

Raleigh educators Tawana James and Cheryl Thomas have a common goal: close the achievement gap among minority students in Southeast Raleigh.

To do so, they’ve proposed a charter elementary school just outside downtown dubbed Wisdom Academy, with both academic and family support for its students.

Now they just need a thumbs up from the State Board of Education to open in fall 2013.

“The hardest part is getting the background information together, seeing what you want to do and talking to the community to see how they’ll receive you,” James said. “But if you dream it, it is attainable.”

Wisdom Academy is one of 53 charter school applicants for 2013-14 currently under review by a state school board subcommittee, with pre-approval decisions expected later this month. They are part of a wave of new applicants that began when legislators removed the 100-school cap on charter schools in 2011.

The Raleigh area has two hopefuls: Wisdom Academy, and a fine arts-focused high school called Longleaf School of the Arts with curriculum inspired by the N.C. Governor’s School summer program.

While critics say charter schools can lack diversity and drain top students from the public school system, proponents argue that they offer healthy choices to an area. Public reaction is likely to vary.

“Some parents will be ecstatic, because they may have more options to look at,” said Joel Medley, spokesman for the State Board of Education. “It’s going to be interesting to see what happens.”

Starting a school is a long, complex process. Applications must be deemed to show a thorough understanding of how to launch and run a school, from research-supported curriculum to a projected five-year budget.

Once pre-approved, the school’s founders must go through a mandatory planning year, with monthly training sessions on topics such as school law, finance and special education. Next March, the state board will reconvene to decide whether to grant final charters for the schools to open in August 2013.

School districts can submit an impact statement on the potential charter school’s effect on its area, but it is not required. The State Board of Education does not yet have one from the Wake County school district, Medley said.

New schools for Wake?

Longleaf does not specify where in Wake County the school would be located, but its expected initial enrollment is 300, with a five-year projection of 420 students. Curriculum would focus on critical thinking, the fine arts and creativity, according to the application.

As evidence for the need for Longleaf’s presence in the city, the application argues that Wake County only has one arts magnet high school and that students involved in fine arts develop better study and time management skills.

The application includes letters of recommendation and support for the project from the president of the Governor’s School of North Carolina Alumni Association, the artistic director of Burning Coal Theatre Company and parents of Governor’s School alumni, among others.

The proposed site for Wisdom is part of Solid Rock International Ministries on Lord Berkley Drive, down the street from Enloe High School. The program is proposed to open as a K-2 with a projected 120 students, and expand to a K-8 school with a projected 540 students in seven years.

In addition to targeted academics that incorporates the arts, Wisdom’s proposed program also includes tutoring or GED services, Thomas said, plus family-focused aspects such as anti-substance abuse and anti-domestic violence programs to help stabilize home environments for children in need of intervention.

The application is critical of existing education options in the area.

“This area is underserved already, and the cuts that are coming are going to impact us more,” Thomas said. “We want to have something in place that allows our children to compete globally, but first we have to work on this gap.”