Selected readings on US charter schools
Island Montessori Charter School and Douglass Academy welcomed their first students this week after going through a yearlong process to become certified charter schools. They’re part of a statewide group of 25 new charter schools, which are defined as publicly funded schools with fewer regulations than traditional schools. School leaders hope what they see as their unique brands of education will attract more families to enroll.
Two days after school began, Douglass Academy still had seats available for students.
Interested parents poked their heads in the school’s front office, and one woman took a handful of fliers to hand out around the neighborhood. So far, the school has three classes – kindergarten and first and second grades – each having between a half-dozen and 15 students. The school plans to grow by one grade each year, filling the next grades from the bottom up until they reach fifth grade, headmaster Barbra Jones said.
Originally, Douglass Academy was geared toward students living in low-income and public housing units, such as Jervay, Hillcrest, Houston Moore and Greenfield Village. Original plans were to build a new school along South 13th and Greenfield streets or to rent the old Lakeside High School building so students would be within walking distance of their school.
But neither of those options worked, and the school decided to rent and renovate the Peabody Center at North Sixth and Red Cross streets, which is about two miles from the public housing units. The school is still sending buses to that area to pick up students who want to attend Douglass Academy, Jones said.
But it’s shifted the mission from low-income students to follow the model of other schools in The Roger Bacon Academy, the charter school management company running Douglass Academy. Students wear uniforms and move through the halls in straight lines with their hands behind their backs. Teachers often use a call-and-response teaching model, having students respond as a group to questions. Every classroom also has a teacher’s assistant, and students who are working at an advanced grade level will move up to that grade for certain subjects.
According to state regulations, charter school applications must say they’ll serve at least 65 students. Douglass Academy’s original application stated that it would eventually serve 400 students from kindergarten through fifth grade, said Baker Mitchell, founder of The Roger Bacon Academy. He pointed out that Charter Day School, now the largest charter school in the area, opened with just 53 students.
“Douglass is adding students daily, so we anticipate being well over 65 by year’s end,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell also said that the school had few fixed costs and could support itself through the per-pupil funding it received from the state.
That was also Jones’ mindset.
“Everything we need has been provided for us,” she said. “Now we just need all our kids to show up.”
Island Montessori Charter School
Spending a few minutes in a classroom at Island Montessori Charter School makes it obvious that this isn’t traditional public education.
Students sit on the floor, and teachers pepper their lessons with reminders to have a peaceful and accepting demeanor. Montessori education puts an equal emphasis on academics and character development, said Jennifer Friend, the school’s founder.
“We want to create compassionate adults who are lifelong learners,” she said.
Right now, Island Montessori enrolls students from age 3 to kindergarten at its children’s school in Carolina Beach. Students in first through fifth grades attend the elementary school on Carolina Beach Road in Wilmington, which the school plans to eventually expand to eighth grade. The elementary school has about 117 students, and the children’s school has about 24 students.
Montessori classrooms include students from three grade levels. The school has two primary classes, which includes students from ages 3 to 6; three lower elementary school classes, with students in first through third grades; and two upper elementary school classes, with fourth- and fifth-graders. Students in the older grades often serve as mini teachers, walking younger ones through a skill they’ve already learned.
Students at Island Montessori use a lot of hands-on materials, such as puzzles and blocks, and each works from an individualized lesson plan. One third-grader may spend extra time on third-grade reading, for example, while another third-grader uses fifth-grade chapter books to learn.
Most of Island Montessori’s teachers have a Montessori background, Friend said, and those who don’t are training at the Center for Montessori Teacher Education in Raleigh.
For some students, the excitement of a new school year and a new curriculum means they need some training, too. After their first environmental education lesson, Eleanor Rankin’s students needed to regroup. Rankin pointed them back to Montessori’s peaceful mindset.
“We’re going to go to that quiet place for a few minutes and get ourselves centered and ready to learn again,” she said.
Other charter schools
The two new charter schools join three already operating in Southeastern North Carolina: Cape Fear Center for Inquiry and Wilmington Preparatory Academy, both in Wilmington, and Charter Day School in Leland.
Charter Day, which opened in 2000, is the area’s largest charter school, with more than 800 students enrolled during the 2010-11 school year. Cape Fear Center for Inquiry, which also opened in 2000, had about 350 students. Wilmington Preparatory Academy, which opened in 2007, had 86 students.
The state tracks how many public school students from each county attend charter schools. According to state Department of Public Instruction records from 2011-12, about 2 percent of students in New Hanover County attended a charter school. In Brunswick County, about 5 percent of students attended one, and in Pender County, fewer than 1 percent of students were enrolled in a charter school. Students can attend a charter school outside of the county where they live.
More charter schools began opening across the state since June 2011, after the N.C. General Assembly lifted the cap of 100 schools allowed in the state. The number of charter schools has grown to 128 since the cap was lifted. Four charter schools opened in 2012, and 25 schools – including Douglass Academy and Island Montessori – opened this fall. At least 70 groups have already submitted applications to open charter schools in 2014.
Source: StarNews Online – by Pressley Baird