17 NC charter schools recommended to remain open, 1 in danger of closing

Seventeen North Carolina charter schools have been recommended for renewal, meaning they can continue operating for anywhere from three to 10 more years. Meanwhile, one Pitt County charter school is in danger of closing.

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Kelly Hinchcliffe
, WRAL education reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — Seventeen North Carolina charter schools have been recommended for renewal, meaning they can continue operating for three, five, seven or 10 more years, depending on how they are performing. Meanwhile, one Pitt County charter school is in danger of closing.

The state Charter Schools Advisory Board reviewed the schools and made recommendations Monday to the State Board of Education, which will make a final determination early next year. The recommendations are:

10-year renewal
  • Excelsior Classical Academy, Durham
  • Kestrel Heights, Durham
  • Henderson Collegiate, Henderson
  • Lake Lure Classical Academy, Lake Lure
  • Winterville Charter Academy, Winterville
7-year renewal
  • PreEminent Charter School, Raleigh
  • KIPP Durham College Preparatory, Durham
  • Mountain Island Charter School, Mt. Holly
  • Charlotte Lab School, Charlotte
  • Queen City STEM, Charlotte
  • Shining Rock Classical Academy, Waynesville
  • Youngsville Academy, Youngsville
5-year renewal
  • PAVE Southeast Raleigh, Raleigh
  • Piedmont Classical High School, Browns Summit
  • Wilmington Preparatory Academy, Wilmington
3-year renewal
  • Rocky Mount Prep, Rocky Mount
  • VERITAS Community School, Charlotte
  • Ignite Innovation Academy, Greenville
CSAB Vice Chair Steven Walker praised Kestrel Heights in Durham as "a real success story" and recommended the school's K-8 grades get a 10-year renewal, the longest renewal possible.

The State Board of Education voted unanimously in April 2017 to close Kestrel Heights' high school as punishment for giving unearned diplomas to 40% of its graduates in the previous eight years. The board also required the K-8 portion of the school, which stayed open, to retain an independent professional auditor.

CSAB members unanimously recommended closing Ignite Innovation Academy in Greenville because the school has been graded an F school all three years, has not met academic growth expectations, had enrollment drop from 235 students to 195 last year and even lower this year, has been issued financial warnings and has been noncompliant in dozens of areas.

"I think it was a decent idea when we approved this application, and I think the execution hasn’t been great. And I think that’s to put it nicely," Walker said. "People in the public who are told over and over again that charter schools have no accountability, this is ultimate accountability. If you do not perform, you do not continue as a school.”

The State Board of Education can renew charter schools for 10 years, unless one of the following applies:

  • The charter school has not provided financially sound audits for the immediately preceding three years.
  • The charter school's student academic outcomes for the immediately preceding three years have not been comparable to the academic outcomes of the local school administrative unit in which the charter is located.
  • The charter school is not, at the time of the request for renewal of the charter, substantially in compliance with state law, federal law, the school's own bylaws or the provisions set forth in its charter granted by the State Board of Education.

Durham, Wake schools oppose new charter school applicant

Also Monday, the CSAB reviewed an application from Oak Grove Charter Academy, which wants to open in Durham in 2021. The school would serve 520 students in grades K-5 in year one and expand grades and student enrollment in future years.

Durham Public Schools and the Wake County Public School System both submitted letters opposing Oak Grove's possible opening. Durham school leaders cited the following reasons:
  • Oak Grove Charter Academy would undermine the state’s own school transformation efforts at Glenn Elementary, a designated Restart school.
  • The charter application and the management organization’s past history suggest that Oak Grove Charter Academy would disproportionately draw engaged, affluent, and/or non-minority families from Glenn Elementary, Neal Middle, and The School for Creative Studies magnet school, thereby increasing segregation and the concentration of poverty.
  • Oak Grove Charter Academy’s proposed governing board has no representation from Durham County and no professional educators.

Gerald McNair, president of Oak Grove Charter Academy's board of directors, defended his school's proposal Monday.

"Over past 12 years I have been real concerned about the educational opportunities for children in Durham," McNair told CSAB members. "I feel a disproportionate number of our public schools in Durham County are operating below par. Therefore, our children, I believe, are being denied education opportunities to achieve at the highest level that they possibly can. I personally believe Oak Grove Charter Academy will provide high-quality, cost-effective education opportunities for our children in Durham as well as Granville County."

Local school districts opposing charter schools is nothing new. This past summer, the State Board of Education approved five charter schools to open in Wake County in 2020 despite objections from Wake school leaders who said charters were saturating the area and would "increase de facto segregation."

Fourteen new charter schools want to open in North Carolina in August 2021. Charters, which are publicly funded and privately run schools that do not charge tuition, have been booming in North Carolina with more than 100,000 students enrolled at 196 schools across the state. Twelve charters opened this year, and 10 more are expected next year – putting the state's count at 206 charter schools.

Board reviews NC Cyber Academy's academic struggles

The CSAB also reviewed North Carolina Cyber Academy and discussed some of the school's key areas of low performance.

NC Cyber Academy, recently renamed from NC Connections Academy, and the state's other online charter school, NC Virtual Academy, have both struggled academically since they opened in 2015-16.

Both schools received performance grades of D for the 2018-19 school year and neither met overall academic growth expectations, according to state education data.

The schools, which each enroll more than 2,000 students, were launched in 2015 as part of a pilot program to determine whether virtual charters could succeed in the state. They are similar to regular charter schools but allow students to stay home and take all of their classes online. Parents typically serve as learning coaches and act as a liaison between their children and teachers.


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