By MIRANDA BAINES
FOR THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
By August of this year, North East Carolina Prep School (NECP) will more than double the number of students who initially enrolled last August.
“I think we’ve only just scratched the surface,” said NECP executive director John Westberg of the school’s enrollment.
Edgecombe County’s only charter school has approximately 400 students enrolled in kindergarten through eighth grade in its first year of operation and has a state enrollment cap of 860 for the 2013-2014 school year. With the addition of the ninth grade and an expansion of classes in the elementary grades, the school will exceed that cap.
“We’re looking at having right around 900 students in grades kindergarten through nine,” said Taro Knight, director of communications/ community outreach at NECP. He said the school won’t receive state funding for the additional students, but will receive local funding for those students.
Bouma Construction is working on a third building on NECP’s campus, located at the site of the former Mary Frances Center on the western edge of Tarboro. That building will be completed by August. The new 5,200 square foot, two-story building will house middle school (fifth through ninth grade) students. The building will feature a high-school size gymnasium with a stage for performances, a weight room, locker room and “state of the art” classrooms, said Westberg. With an enrollment of 900, NECP will be at its capacity for the three buildings on campus and will have to expand further as the enrollment increases.
“We’ll start open enrollment (for the 2014-15 school year) in October and we will probably have to go into a construction phase immediately,” Knight said.
NECP’s charter projects that the school will have 2,200 students within five years of opening its doors. At its current rate of growth, the school will reach that enrollment figure sooner than projected.
“I think we’ve exceeded our expectations,” said Westberg, adding that he is surprised the elementary school is as populated as it is, considering the school just started “from the ground up.” Westberg’s vision was to provide a “quality education” for students in the region, and NECP currently has students from Edgecombe, Nash, Wilson, Halifax, Martin and Pitt counties.
“Needless to say, I’m very happy with the way that we’ve created a learning atmosphere here. The students are here to learn and they’re thriving. I’m very pleased,” said Westberg. “It’s a private school feel in a public school and we want it to be something special for our students.”
Brownie Eidson, chairman of NECP’s board of directors, liked the idea of the charter school when he first heard about it, but said the school in its first year is faring better than he ever imagined.
“The faculty and the staff here at the school are just doing a tremendous job. I think it shows in our growth for enrollment next year. I think it shows in the faces of the students and the teachers…” said Eidson. “I think we’re creating something very special and very different for this area. It’s a good, safe environment for kids to learn in.”
Eidson said the component of NECP’s educational model that he likes the most is the focus on critical thinking and multiple intelligences of students.
“I’m a strong believer in an education that provides the basics but also gives students the tools to think critically about what they’re studying so they can really explore the world around them with a more critical mind,” he said.
Knight said the school encourages students to ask questions to build critical thinking skills necessary in today’s world while exposing the students to diversity to prepare them for today’s “global economy.”
Knight and Westberg said NECP has socioeconomic, racial, ethnic and cultural diversity in its students and its staff and is working on a Chinese initiative that would bring two teachers to NECP to instruct students in Mandarin Chinese. Diversity is a “public school” component that NECP wants to retain, said Knight while offering smaller class sizes typical in private schools.
“As a charter school, we just want to blend the best of both worlds (public and private schools), not just for the students but for the families, as well,” said Knight.