Several area Lake Norman private schools applied for public status

by Tori Hamby

A Huntersville private school could begin the next school year as public charter school if approved by the state.

Under the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s Fast Track charter school approval process, Corvian Community School, 13016 Eastfield Road, will be one of 11 new potential charter schools interviewed next week by the N.C. Charter School Advisory Council.

Last year, the state legislature passed a bill lifting the 100-school cap on the number of charter schools allowed to operate. All 11 schools scheduled to be interviewed could be be given charters.

“Fast Track is something brand new to the state,” said Joel Medley, director of the state’s Department of Public Instruction’s Office of Charter Schools. “Because (N.C.) Senate Bill 8 lifted the cap so late last summer, we needed a way to open charter schools by the beginning of next school year.”

Corvian Community School is one of 27 schools that initially applied for Fast Track status. The charter school advisory council turned down Fast Track applications from Davidson-based private school McKinney Academy, along with proposed schools Thunderbird Preparatory Academy and Montessori Academy, both of Cornelius.

Normally, Medley said, a school would apply for charter school status in April, and if chosen, open in August of the following year, giving the school a year to plan.

However, heated discussions held up a vote on the bill until June, taking the planning period off the table for the 2012-13 school year. Before the state could even begin to consider awarding charters, a state charter school advisory council also needed to be filled.

“It’s kind of a first-time thing and may very well be the only time that this is done,” Medley said.

Becoming a public charter school will require significant changes in the way the current private schools operate, Medley said. As a first step, private schools would have to incorporate themselves as a private nonprofit entity. Because charter schools receive public funds, they also would be prohibited from charging tuition fees, and must open their doors to all students and require that at least 75 percent of elementary school teachers and 50 percent of middle and high school teachers be certified by the state.

Schools also will have to adjust their curriculum to fit the N.C. Standard Course of Study and administer state required End-of-Grade and End-of-Course tests.

Although the schools will no longer be allowed to charge tuition, they will receive similar public funding to traditional public schools, excluding local bond funds, state building and education lottery funds.

Corvian Community School’s Director Stacey Haskell said that the school’s admission process would not be significantly affected if the state decides to award a charter. The school currently selects students through a lottery instead of using admissions testing to determine whether a student is eligible to attend. Students currently enrolled at the school, however, will have to enter the charter lottery and won’t be guaranteed a space.

“The ‘yuck’ part is that all currently enrolled students go to a lottery, so, unfortunately, no one is grandfathered in,” Haskell said.

On the school’s application, Haskell indicated that if chosen for charter status the school will “target a diverse population of kindergarten through third-grade students,” from Mecklenburg County and the surrounding area and add one grade per year up to the 12th grade. Haskell said she plans to model the school after Community School of Davidson, which has at least 3,000 students on its waiting list. Massive waiting list at all area charter schools, Haskell said, show that area parents want options beyond traditional public schools and expensive private schools.

Five charter schools, Lake Norman Charter, Community School of Davidson, Lincoln Charter, Pine Lake Preparatory and Mountain Island Charter currently serve the Lake Norman area. Corvian Community School’s charter application indicated that although school officials plan to keep enrollment low at 88 students during its first year as a charter, they expect enrollment to jump to 440 students by the second year and 704 students by the fifth.

“I feel that with the growth that north Charlotte is facing, parents need more options,” Haskell said. “I also believe in public education and want to see excellent public schools. I think that this is a great way to do that.”

Although the school is in its second year of operation as a private school, Haskell said her intention since the beginning was to eventually apply for charter status. She said the recent legislation that lifted the charter school cap provided a great opportunity to make the move.

“The leaders of the school have always had the goal of one day becoming public,” Haskell said.

Following interviews, the advisory council will give charter recommendations to the state Board of Education, who will decide what schools get chartered.