By MIRANDA BAINES
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction received a record number of charter school applications this year – 71.
Currently, 128 charter schools are in operation in North Carolina, and 29 of those have opened since the state’s General Assembly lifted the cap on charters. Twenty-seven new charter schools are set to open in August 2014, with 71 more applications in place for the following year.
Eddie Goodall, executive director of the North Carolina Public Charter Schools Association, said the increased number of applications is likely due to “more public knowledge of the cap being lifted and charter advocacy statewide plus the continuing demand by parents for a choice for their child.”
Edgecombe County currently only has one public charter school, North East Carolina Prep School (NECP). Another proposed charter, The Nola House Charter School, filed a letter of intent with DPI to open in August 2015 but later made the decision to not submit an application until next year, meaning it would open in August 2016 pending application approval.
“We intend to put our application in the 2014 roster,” said the school’s visionary Elton Powell. “I’m excited about what we have to offer … We’re moving forward, looking forward to working with both school districts (Nash and Edgecombe Counties).”
Powell said he would like to open the school either on the Edgecombe side of Rocky Mount or a rural area of Edgecombe County near Rocky Mount.
Meanwhile, the population at NECP is growing.
NECP is in its second year of operation, with a student population of about 900. The school has received about 200 applications for the 2014-2015 school year and intends to accept 400 new students next school year, for a total of 1,300.
“That’s what our state projection is for our third year,” NECP Executive Director John D. Westberg said. “We’re pretty much right on projection.”
Currently serving students in kindergarten through ninth grade, NECP will add 10th grade next year and additional classes at other grade levels as needed, Westberg said.
Even though NECP is allowed to accept more than 400 new students next year, the school doesn’t have the space to accommodate more than 400.
“We have a commitment to low student-teacher ratio,” said NECP’s Director of Communications Diane LeFiles.
The school’s enrollment period for next year ends Jan. 15, and if the school receives more than 400 applications, a lottery will be held the first of February to determine which applicants the school will accept. The remainder of the students will be placed on a waiting list in the order that their names are drawn.
“Last year, we had 130 on the waiting list. We have been able to place some of those students,” LeFiles said.
She said currently enrolled students have priority, but they must submit a letter of commitment if they intend to return next school year.
“I think choice is a good thing,” Westberg said. He attributes the community response to NECP to the “well-rounded” education the school provides, from the curriculum and learning environment to the athletic program and emphasis on the arts.
“Our fine arts program is growing, whereas many of the traditional schools are cutting back on the arts,” LeFiles said. “The school was founded on the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, so all of these activities are an integral part of that.”
She added the school has placed an emphasis on academics, without creating the “testing pressure” present in traditional public schools.
Taro Knight, NECP’s director of middle schools/ athletics/ community outreach, said the athletics program contributes to the education NECP provides. He said he’s particularly excited about offering varsity and junior varsity football beginning in the fall of 2014.
“Sports teaches a lot of life lessons,” Knight said.
The school will host an information day Jan. 11, “Take a Peak at Prep,” at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. On that day, parents will have an opportunity to tour the buildings, receive application assistance, and meet teachers.