Under the Dome

Director of state charter office to lead online public school

Joel Medley, head of the charter school office in the state Department of Public Instruction, has accepted a job running the K12 online charter school in North Carolina. Thursday was Medley’s last day running the state’s charter school office.

Medley will start next week as the online school’s top administrator, or head of school.

“It’s an opportunity to learn and be part of something that’s so rare for the state,” Medley said.

K12 is a management company delivering online, or virtual, education. It will operate in the state as N.C. Virtual Academy, and its work will be overseen by a nonprofit board. It is one of two virtual charters that will open this fall.

K12 has a spotty track record in other states, and opponents of online charters fought hard to prevent it from coming to North Carolina. Earlier this year, a somewhat reluctant State Board of Education approved it and another online charter called N.C. Connections Academy, a virtual school associated with the education giant Pearson, for four-year pilot projects.

The board’s approval came with the understanding that the online charters would provide constant updates on their work, with some members stressing that they expected accurate reports. Medley’s hiring could go a long way in establishing a good relationship between the school and the State Board.

“I found him to be extremely ethical and straightforward,” said state Superintendent June Atkinson. “Those are two important skills to have as a charter school director. He certainly was respected by the State Board of Education and all of us at the state Department of Public Instruction.”

As head of the charter office, Medley was deeply involved in working with the online applicants and their contracts.

Medley said he could not provide a date when he was contacted about going to work for the online charter.

“When I resigned, I made 100 percent sure that everything was done above board and done correctly,” he said.

Medley knows well the concerns and questions some board members and some in the public have about the school he’s about to run.

“The success or failure of the school rests upon my shoulders,” Medley said. A “high-quality team” will be committed to making the school successful, he said. “We’ll be doing everything we can to meet the needs of every child in every class every day.”

Medley has run the state charter school office for about 4 1/2 years, a time of growth for charters in the state. In 2011, the state legislature eliminated a 100-school cap on charters, leading to a flood of applications, with new demands and pressures on the state office.

Some charter applicants complained that they weren’t getting a fair shake or that the state office wasn’t offering enough help. Charter critics said too many questionable applicants were slipping through. Medley also had some strong supporters among charter school operators.

“The position of director of charter schools is a very difficult task,” Atkinson said. “It is very, very difficult to please everyone.”

Medley “really helped with his demeanor and his calmness to shepherd us through the time when we had more and more charter schools added to the rolls,” she said.

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Twitter: @Lynn_Bonner