Wake Ed

Only one new Wake County charter school still set to open in 2016

(L-R) Magdalena Enriquez works on a senior English exercise with adviser Teresa Thomas on March 25, 2015 at Commonwealth High School in Charlotte, NC. Commonwealth is a charter school managed by Accelerated Learning Solutions, which also would manage the new Central Wake Charter High School in Raleigh.
(L-R) Magdalena Enriquez works on a senior English exercise with adviser Teresa Thomas on March 25, 2015 at Commonwealth High School in Charlotte, NC. Commonwealth is a charter school managed by Accelerated Learning Solutions, which also would manage the new Central Wake Charter High School in Raleigh. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Four new charter schools were supposed to open in Wake County for the 2016-17 school year, but the only one that could still meet that timetable is a program targeting students who are at risk of dropping out.

Organizers of Central Wake Charter High School said Friday they’re on track to open in Southeast Raleigh as the 20th charter school in Wake County. In contrast, three other new Wake charter schools plan to delay opening until the 2017-18 school year because they won’t have a building ready by this August.

Wendell Bullard, a member of the board for Central Wake, said the school had recently signed a lease for a building on Rock Quarry Road. He said the school will begin recruiting students for the program, which focuses on bringing back students who’ve dropped out and working with those who are considering dropping out.

Bullard helped two charter schools in Charlotte that have a similar focus: Commonwealth High School and Stewart Creek HIgh School.

Central Wake would be managed by Accelerated Learning Solutions, which is based in Nashville, Tenn. ALS also manages Commonwealth and Stewart Creek.

Staff from the Office of Charter Schools will monitor Central Wake to see if the school is ready to open in 2016.

Charter schools are taxpayer funded public schools that are exempt from some of the regulations that traditional public schools must follow.

In June and August 2015, the State Board of Education gave permission for 14 new charter schools to open for the 2016-17 school year. Four of the new charters were in Wake County, including Cardinal Charter Academy at Knightdale, Peak Charter Academy in Apex and Pine Springs Preparatory Academy in Holly Springs.

But since then, site issues have knocked out all but Central Wake.

In February, the State Board approved Pine Springs’ request for a one-year delay. In its letter requesting the delay, Pine Springs wrote that it wouldn’t have enough time before August to obtain a property, get local approval and finish construction.

On Tuesday, Peak Charter told parents that it would not be able to complete construction of a building in time for the 2016-17 school year. The State Board could approve the request for a delay or rescind Peak’s charter.

On Thursday, the State Board approved Cardinal Charter’s request for a one-year delay. In its letter, Cardinal cited how Knightdale town leaders had objected to two sites it had looked at in the community.

The reduction in the number of new charter schools opening this year could slow down the pace of families opting not to enroll in the Wake County school system. In the past three years, Wake's charter-school enrollment has increased 54 percent to reach 9,577 students this school year.

But the combination of the three delayed charters and any new ones approved to open in 2017 could sharply cut the school system’s growth for the 2017-18 school year. The opening of four new charter schools in the county in the 2014-15 school year resulted in Wake’s charter-school enrollment growth exceeding the district’s enrollment growth.

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