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March 8, 2012

NECP: Charter school won’t affect ECPS

ROCKY MOUNT —

With the announcement of the new charter school opening in Tarboro this fall, Edgecombe County Public Schools (ECPS) could lose administrators, teachers, students and money.

After about one year of lobbying, the North East Carolina Prep School (NECP) is scheduled to open at an as-yet-undetermined location Aug. 1. The school received state approval a week ago.

NECP Executive Director John Westberg, a former principal at SouthWest Edgecombe who was fired by ECPS. led the charge to open the school. Westberg said he believes the opening of the charter school will not instantly affect ECPS.

"We don't feel, at least for the first year, it will impact the public school greatly," he said. "What we found in our research is that there are roughly 10,000 school age children in the county and only 7,200 go to school here. So, a lot of the students are being home-schooled or going to private school in other counties or other parts of the state. We would like to capture some of that population and bring them back to Edgecombe County."

Del Burns, interim ECPS superintendent, would not say whether or not his district would do anything different to either maintain or try to increase enrollment at the public schools.  

"We are always striving to improve Edgecombe County Public Schools to prepare our students for the future and ensure that our teachers are using the most innovative methods for 21st Century learning and we will continue to do so," Burns said.

ECPS board chair Ann Kent echoed Burn's sentiments.

"The mission of Edgecombe County Public School have not changed," she said. "Our job is to educate all the children in Edgecombe County to the best of our ability."

ECPS's current enrollment is 7,133 students, which is up 45 when compared to the same time last year. Neither number includes pre-K.

The state pays $6,000 for each student attending either a public or charter school and the loss or gain of students could affect the amount of teachers required to meet the state’s educational requirements.

"Our ADM (average daily membership) does drive our state allotment for teaching positions both up and down, so any shifts in enrollment will affect our teaching numbers, either increasing or decreasing them," Burns said.

For the first year, NECP's projected student enrollment 380. That projection includes 60 kindergartners, 20 students each in the first through fifth grades, 120 sixth graders and 50 students in both the seventh and eight grades.

The state required NECP to provided their estimated enrollment data. While those minimums don’t have to be met, any enrollment in excess will necessitate a lottery to assure fair and equal access to successful applicants.

While NECP is now accepting applications for students, the process of hiring faculty and staff could be months away.

"We're going to get those (enrollment) numbers before we do any type of hiring or interviewing," Westberg said. "We have time. We have a number of people who are interested in working for us."

As NECP works towards a plans to hire teachers and select a site for its new school, a debate continues as to whether or not the charter will be good or bad for the county.  

"I'm trying to get someone to convince me that it is a bad idea," NECP Chairman Taro Knight, a graduate of an ECPS (Tarboro High) school, said. "If I thought that this charter school would be detrimental to our public school, I would be the first one out. I've tried to get an argument against it and nobody can present a good one based on facts. It (NECP) is good for the county, it gives people another choice."

Edgecombe County Commissioner Viola Harris is also a graduate of an ECPS (North Edgecombe). While she is not totally against charter schools, her support lies elsewhere.

"I support public schools," she said. "I hate to see public schools dollars taken from them. If charter schools had to abide by the same rules that public schools do, then I would not have that problem. And I'm concerned at how diversified the (charter) school will be."

An application session for NECP will be held from 1-4 p.m. Saturday at the Edgecombe Library. Officials will be available to answer questions and concerns.

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