In 1998, North Carolina passed a law allowing for the first public charter schools. While they have been in existence since that time, a cap limited the number to 100 statewide. Until three years ago.
The first year the cap was lifted, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction received 71 applications for new charter schools. The last two years have seen around 30 applications each, and this year, DPI approved eight. One of those, Emereau:Bladen, is now in its Ready to Open status and is expected to begin operating in August, 2017.
The concepts behind, and the words used often by, those associated with charter schools, are “choice” and “options.”
“Education is not a one-size-fits all concept,” said Tony Helton, of the North Carolina Charter School Advisory Board, which oversees charter applications. “I am a huge supporter of traditional public schools, as well as public charter, private schools, or home schools. I trust the parents with the choice of where and how to educate their children.
“If an area has no choice, then the quality of education is determined by the family’s zip code. Competition has always bred excellence. Traditional public, public charter, private, and home school are all an important part in giving every student the opportunity for a quality education.”
The folks from Emereau:Bladen agree.
“We’re not trying to compete with anyone,” said Howard Sowell, with Advantaged Capital for Education, the company providing start-up funds for Emereau:Bladen. “If somebody offers good, high-quality education, we welcome that. We’re just trying to give the people in Bladen County another educational option.”
The Emereau Foundation recently elected its officers and named Eddie Madden, of White Lake, as chairman; Calvin Stephens, of Raleigh, as vice-chair; Carla James as treasurer; and Rhonda Coyne secretary.
One of the next steps for the foundation’s board will be to secure a location. The group has narrowed the possibilities down to two, but declined to disclose the Bladen County sites. They did, however state that proximity to water and sewer was a prime consideration, as were zoning requirements. Secondary considerations include roadways that would accommodate growth and whether the land was wooded or already cleared.
Additionally, Kate Alice Dunaway, author of the charter and advisor to the board, said, “We do not plan on using existing facilities. We’re looking at new construction.”
Concerning the tight timeline, Dunaway noted it was not uncommon for charter schools to begin construction in March and open in August.
“Once we get started, things move relatively quickly,” she said. “Everybody is keenly aware of the time-frame.”
Emereau:Bladen, like all charter schools, will be run by a non-profit organization — in this case, the Emereau Foundation. Funding is provided by, and in the same amount as, other public schools.
“We receive the amount that the state would provide for any child — and that varies from county to county; it’s not the same across the state — as well as supplements by the county or district. Add those two together, and that’s what the charter schools receive,” informed Dunaway.
“Where charter schools have the opportunity to strengthen programs is in the fact that we can take that money and allocate it for the best use of the children’s learning environment,” she continued. “If we want to spend a certain amount of teacher salaries or on instructional support, we have more flexibility regarding how that money is allocated. We’re still accountable, but we have flexibility in how we use it.”
That kind of flexibility translates to 13 years each of Spanish, healthy living, fine arts, and service hours. When available, college preparatory classes — such as honors Spanish II — will be offered in lieu of regular classes at Emereau:Bladen.
The flexibility doesn’t just benefit academics. The school, which will start K-6 and add a grade each year to become K-12 by 2023, will have by that year four deans, four administrative associates, a facilities manager, two guidance counselors, a nurse, and 47 teachers, including three exception children teachers. Faculty will oversee a projected 1,100 students, or 20 percent of Bladen County’s student population, if all goes according to plan. Teacher salaries will range from $40,000 to $65,000.
Emereau:Bladen plans to begin accepting student applications in November.
“Families may love the school they’re assigned to, and they should embrace that,” said Dunaway. “But when thinking about education, families should have a choice of their assigned school, a faith-based school, a charter school, or a home school and make the choice that’s in the best interest of the child and the family.”
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.