Lukewarm welcome

Published 6:45 pm Wednesday, September 11, 2013

WINDSOR – How will the opening of Bertie County’s first charter school next year impact the existing public school system?

According to Bertie County Schools Superintendent Elaine White, the loss of much-needed funding, the ability to retain quality teachers and the possibility of student transfers to the new Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy (HCLA) are all within the realm of possibilities.

HCLA was one of the 26 charter schools approved last week by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction out of 32 that submitted applications by March 1 of this year. Bertie, Harnett and Halifax were three counties in the state that gained their first ever charter school.

For their first year of operation Heritage Collegiate will serve only 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. However, since HCLA is a public school, it can attract students from Bertie and surrounding counties. It’s naturally assumed that HCLA would be in direct competition with the more traditional Bertie County Schools.

When Heritage Collegiate submitted its original application to the Department of Education, Bertie County Schools sent an Educational Impact Statement to the DOE, citing several reasons for the Public Charter School Advisory Committee to deny the application’s approval. That document was signed by Superintendent White and Bertie County Board of Education chair, Emma Johnson.

The reasons cited included a 10-year declining enrollment in Bertie County Schools that have resulted in a dwindling fiscal allocations coming in the face of current reductions in local, state, and federal funds; also, a high teacher turnover rate, as well as competitive recruiting efforts by surrounding districts, home schooling, and area private schools.

Since the approval of the charter school’s application, White released a new impact statement this week; and while it isn’t exactly a welcome sign to HCLA, it stresses a willingness on the part of Bertie County Schools to work with their new educational neighbor.

“I expect that the location of the Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy Charter School in Bertie County School’s attendance area will have some negative impact upon Bertie County Schools,” White’s statement read.

The statement went on to say, “Bertie, like so many other small rural school districts, has suffered the loss of many of its already meager resources.  State, federal and local budgets have been cut over the past several years.  The new charter school will continue to pull on these resources.  We could, potentially, need to send over $1.5 million to Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy Charter if it reaches the targeted enrollment in the first year.”

White also cited current school programs that could be affected, including: the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) School, Bertie Early College High School, Aulander Year Round Elementary and the Language Immersion Program at Colerain Elementary as being potentially adversely affected.

“The instructional offerings of Bertie County Schools are good and getting better,” the release stated.  “I don’t see that the new charter will offer anything that is significantly better than we already offer.”

Yet, in the final paragraph of the impact statement, White does indicate there is an olive branch extended between the two education entities.

“Even with the adverse effect that Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy Charter may have on Bertie County Schools, I welcome the new school to our district,” she stated. “I believe that their mission is a noble one and I, along with all of the Bertie County Schools staff, will do my best to work with them for the good of our children.”

HCLA plans to open its doors for students in the summer of 2014 at a yet to be determined location in BertieCounty.

In advance, HCLA will hold its inaugural “coming out” party this Saturday (Sept. 14) with a community outreach program at the Uplift Academy Building located at 416 Ghent Street in Windsor beginning at 11 a.m.

Founding Executive Director of HCLA, Kashi Nelson, says the school’s goal is to serve as a college preparatory vehicle for its students.