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Charter school approved

By Taylor Sisk
Staff Writer

The North Carolina State Board of Education has given the go-ahead to the Howard and Lillian Lee Scholars Charter School to begin providing K-8 instruction in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district for the 2013-14 school year.

At its monthly meeting last Thursday, the board approved the school along with 24 other charters across the state, all of which had been recommended by the board’s Public Charter School Advisory Council. The state legislature voted last year to lift the 100-school limit on charter schools in North Carolina.

Lee school administrators will now enter into a planning and training program with the state, with a decision for final charter approval coming no later than next March.

Under a proposal to be considered this fall by the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, the school would be located in Claremont South, a development planned for the south side of Homestead Road in Carrboro.

It will be co-managed with Michigan-based for-profit company National Heritage Academies, which operates more than 70 charter schools across the country, including five in North Carolina.

While receiving public funding, charter schools aren’t subject to the same oversight as traditional public schools. North Carolina law allows the schools to operate independent of local school boards.

The Lee school has drawn criticism from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education, elected officials, the local chapter of the NAACP and concerned parents and other residents for, among other things, a failure on the part of the school’s board of directors to articulate how it will effectively spend the money that will be removed from the public-school system’s budget, projected by the district to be $4.6 million or more.

The school’s charter application indicates that the school will strive to help reduce the racial and economic achievement gaps, prepare students for high school and college preparatory programs and alleviate overcrowding in the elementary schools.

“I’m in favor of any school that serves children well and helps them be successful,” said Graig Meyer, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools director of student equity and volunteer services. Among Meyer’s responsibilities is the district’s racial-equity initiative.

“I really like charter schools that provide a complement to what the existing public-education system is offering in the community,” Meyer said. As any example, he cited Pace Academy, a charter vocational high school in Carrboro with an enrollment of some 160 students.

Pace Academy, Meyer said, “offers a really nice complement for a different learning environment for high school students who have struggled in our schools.”

“One of my concerns about the Lee charter school,” he said, “is that I just haven’t seen anything about the approach that seems to be especially effective in offering a different type of education than what kids would receive in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools.”

National Heritage Academies vice president of government relations Nick Paradiso stated in an Aug. 29 email that, “Until a charter is granted, policies and procedures for the school will not be developed.”

The Lee school’s board of directors has repeatedly declined to respond to The Citizen’s requests for interviews or responses to questions.

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