State Board gives final approval to new Charter Schools

Published 9:12 am Tuesday, January 14, 2014

RALEIGH –The State Board of Education late last week gave final approval to 26 new public charter schools, allowing them to open their doors to students for the 2014-15 school year.

Among the 26 approvals was Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy (HCLA) in BertieCounty, a first for that county. HCLA represents a six-year effort of former Bertie County educator Kashi Nelson to bring the school to her birthplace.

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 York State.

When Heritage Collegiate opens, as expected, in August of this year, Nelson’s plans call for the publically funded educational facility to serve kindergarten thru grade-3 with approximately 60 students per grade. Hopefully those numbers will expand by one grade level over the next six years up to grade-8.

“We are reserving the right to expand at a future time,” said Nelson in an earlier interview with this newspaper.

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 Bertie County 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.”

The work to expand the number of charter schools across the state has been ongoing.

“In 2011, we worked with parents and policymakers to eliminate the cap on public charter schools.  Since then, parents in ten new counties in our state now offer this opportunity to families who desire to enroll their child into a public charter school that could better serve their child’s needs,” said Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC) President Darrell Allison. “Without the elimination of the cap, thousands of children could possibly be stuck in schools that are not working for them.

In 2011, only 47 counties in North Carolina offered families a public charter school for their child. Today, that number has increased to 57 counties for families “where public charters schools are another viable option,” said Allison.

“Moreover, we are especially proud of the fact that this class of approvals has three public charter schools that will now offer parents in underserved and rural communities additional options to consider when deciding where to send their child to school,” he added.

Allison noted in regard to the public charter school growth in the state, “we must make sure that we have the proper perspective.”

North Carolina has approximately 2,500 traditional public schools in 100 counties. For public charter schools, North Carolina currently has 127 public charter schools in 54 counties, a number which will slightly increase to 153 public charter schools in 57 of its counties by the 2014-15 school year.

“The decision by the board to allow the establishment of these new charters will not overwhelm our traditional public schools, especially when you examine the fact that we still have 43 counties without at least one public charter school,” Allison noted.

He added that PEFNC is “especially proud that KIPP Halifax in Halifax County and Heritage Collegiate in Bertie County will open their doors in the 2014-15 school year. As the inaugural class in our North Carolina Public Charter School Accelerator program, they have demonstrated incredible commitment to meeting rigorous standards that will allow them to be ready to teach the day their students step foot in the classroom.”