Johnston Charter Academy, poised to be the second charter school in Johnston, wants to delay its opening by one year.
The N.C. Board of Education approved the school to open this fall, but Johnston Charter’s parent company, Michigan-based National Heritage Academies, doesn’t believe it can meet that deadline. At its February meeting, the state charter schools advisory school board will consider the request, with the authority to grant the delay ultimately falling to the N.C. Board of Education.
Stefanie Rachis, president of Johnston Charter Academy’s board of directors, said NHA officials raised the possibility of a delay last November, and then the board sent a formal request to the state’s office of charter schools in December.
Having to wait another year to open is frustrating, Rachis said.
“They came to us and said they couldn’t guarantee an on-time opening,” Rachis said. “We had a meeting in November where we hashed out why this is happening. Their board met and looking at other schools they had opened in North Carolina, where occupancy permits weren’t approved until a few weeks before school or where classes had to be held in another building, they just felt there wasn’t enough time now to be ready to open.
“We’re still moving forward with all of our ready-to-open documents and still running as if we’re opening this year, but we didn’t want to be in a predicament.”
The N.C. Board of Education approved Johnston Charter Academy last August and then the Town of Clayton, in December, approved the school’s plans for a 47,000-square-foot building. The school planned to open with kindergarten through sixth grade, but with the delay, Rachis said it will add seventh grade when it opens next year.
Rachis said the school’s board will remain intact and will use the year to both plan and get the word out in the Johnston County community. The school hired Kerry Chisnall, the former principal at Durham’s Jordan High School, to lead Johnston Charter.
“(The year) allows our principal time now to get out in the community and see the needs and host community events,” Rachis said. “It gives us more time for hiring and to plan the curriculum ... We still stay committed to opening this school. All of the board is intact, and we all plan to stay.”
Deanna Townsend-Smith, lead consultant for the state’s office of charter schools, said the office had received Johnston Charter’s request, along with delay requests from two other charter schools approved to open this year. Rolesville Charter Academy, another National Heritage Academies school, is one of those two, said NHA spokeswoman Jennifer Hoff, the other is Cardinal Charter Academy at Knightdale.
Construction challenges and a tight schedule led to the delays at both schools, Hoff said.
“Unfortunately, as we continued our plans to develop the property for Johnston Charter Academy, it became clear we could not guarantee an on-time opening for August 2017 as planned,” Hoff said in an email. “This delay will ensure that our school building will be of the highest quality and completed well in advance of the start of school.”
Clayton’s December approval meant Johnston Charter Academy had just seven months to build before its planned August opening, but Rachis said NHA had expressed no previous concerns with that deadline.
“We said (in the November meeting), ‘We came to you and you said yes, it can be built in this amount of time,’ ” Rachis said. “And they went back on their word, and we’re very frustrated with that. But this is what is necessary for school choice to be had in the Clayton area.”
NHA sent out an email this week notifying prospective families of the need for more time.
“We are disappointed that we will not be able to provide a new school in the fall of 2017, but we wanted to be responsible in our communication with you so that you could plan accordingly for your children,” said the email, signed by CEO Brian Britton.
Neuse Charter School in Smithfield looks to remain the only independent public option in Johnston County for at least another 18 months. Rachis said the delay is personally disappointing for her family, as her daughter is set to start middle school next year and they had hoped it would be at Johnston Charter Academy.