Charter school approved

Published 9:34 am Monday, September 9, 2013

There will be a new school in Bertie County next year after the North Carolina State Board of Education earlier this week approved 26 new public charter schools in the state that will open in August of 2014.

North Carolina will now go from having 129 public charter schools in 54 of its 100 counties to having 155 in 57 counties by the 2014 school year.

In Bertie County the Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy was one of the 26 schools approved out of 32 that submitted applications. Along with Harnett and Halifax there will be a total of three counties gaining their first charter school.

Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC) lauded the new additions.

“We are especially proud of the fact that Bertie, Harnett, and Halifax counties will see their first public charter schools open in 2014,” said PEFNC president Darrell Allison. “When public charter schools open in counties where previously none existed, parents who never had this as an option are finally provided an alternative that could potentially better meet their child’s educational needs.”

Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy (HCLA) represents a six-year effort of former Bertie County educator Kashi Nelson to bring the school to her birthplace.

“I’m still on cloud-nine,” said Nelson in a telephone interview. “I’m just simply elated.

“It’s been a long process,” she added.

Nelson, a 1987 graduate of Bertie High School, began her teaching career in the Bertie school system before leaving education temporarily to attend Law School at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The lure of the classroom, however, overcame her again and she returned to work in the school systems of Franklin and Wake counties before spending five years with a KIPP charter school in New YorkState.

Working through the North Carolina Charter Accelerator Program, which looks to help people with charter schools in rural areas, and with Northampton County’s KIPP Pride executive director Tammi Sutton as her writing coach, Nelson began the application process of trying to bring a charter school to Bertie County.

Nelson has assembled a Board of Directors consisting of a trio of retired Bertie County educators in Nick Shook, who serves as vice-chairman; Ernestine Byrd, and Thomas Ruffin. A pair of attorneys (Tonza Ruffin and Assata Kimbrough Buffaloe) also serves on the board along with Georgia Beneva Everett of Southern Bank in Windsor. The board chair of HCLA is Garrett Taylor, CEO of Uplift Comprehensive Services in Pitt County.

To help introduce them to the public, HCLA has slated a community outreach program for next Saturday, Sept. 14, at 11 a.m. at the Uplift Academy Building located at 416 Ghent Street in Windsor.

“We want to be a leadership based program,” said Nelson. “We want our curriculum to develop leadership in our students.”

When Heritage Collegiate opens they will serve kindergarten thru grade-3 with approximately 60 students per grade and expanding by one grade level over the next six years up to grade-8.

“We are reserving the right to expand at a future time,” she says.

When asked about expansion to the senior high level, Nelson said she believed the Bertie school system currently has viable options in the county’s Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math (STEM) School and its Early College High School programs.

“We feel our choice is good for everyone,” Nelson said. “Traditional schools will get better and we are trying to get families to see us as getting better.”

Nelson points out that HCLA is not seeking to divert resources from traditional district schools.

“I hope to collaborate between traditional schools and charter schools,” she says. “There’s a lot of waste in education and we all have to tighten our budgets and to be more frugal.”

Because the state does not provide capital outlay funds, Heritage Collegiate is looking at four possible facilities in BertieCounty to house the school when it first opens.

“That’s our number-one priority,” said Nelson. “For now we are looking at something temporary as opposed to long-term. However, because we will be technology-driven, we want to have a modern building and we are hoping to build our own facility within the next four years.”