Charter School Faces Possible Closure
A Moore County charter school could be forced to close at the end of the school year.
Officials at The Academy of Moore County, on U.S. 15-501 south of Aberdeen, told The Pilot today that the State Board of Education on Thursday denied a recommendation by the N.C. Office of Charter Schools to renew the school’s charter for another three years.
Allyson Schoen, the school’s director of education, said she is prepared to fight the decision. If those efforts fail, the school will close June 30.
Schoen called the decision a “tragedy,” considering the strides the school has made in recent years. It met its Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals last year and opened a new, state-of-the-art $2.2 million facility in August.
She admitted that the school had struggled in the past and still has work to do, but she criticized the state board for not taking the school’s progress into account, arguing that it based the decision on past data.
“We have totally turned this ship around,” she said. “They’re looking at the past data. They’re not comparing apples to apples.”
The school, which opened in Southern Pines in 1997, has 175 students enrolled this year in kindergarten through eighth grade, according to curriculum facilitator Maggie Dougherty. The school draws children from Moore, Scotland, Richmond and Hoke counties. It employs 13 teachers, two assistants and four administrators.
As a charter school, The Academy of Moore County is an alternative to traditional public schools. It is tuition-free, but aims to provide a private school setting with smaller class sizes. Its students also wear uniforms.
Schoen said that about 60 percent of her students would qualify for free and reduced lunch in the public school system. Dougherty added that a good portion of the the students come from military families and single-parent homes.
“These parents want their kids to get a better education, so they’ve made the commitment to drive their students here every day,” Schoen said. “I’ve got a lot of parents who buy into the program.”
Schoen credited Bill Moore, former director of education and a past Moore County Principal of the Year, for bringing stability to the school in recent years. Schoen served under Moore for three years as his assistant director of education. She took the reins of the school this year, after Moore retired.
Perhaps the biggest achievement under Moore’s watch was construction of the new school building. The U.S. Department of Agriculture backed 90 percent of the loan used to build it, Schoen said. Former Sen. Elizabeth Dole attended a ceremony announcing the loan in 2008.
Schoen said she has received phone calls from parents who are concerned that their children will be forced to attend public schools that haven’t met AYP goals. She said she felt for families, adding the school is a choice they deserve to have.
Yolanda McCarty has a son in second grade and a daughter in kindergarten at the school. She said her son had a difficult experience in the public school system, but since transferring to The Academy, he has flourished.
“We’ve had a fantastic experience,” she said. “The kids are so happy there.”
The McCartys are a military family and live in Pinebluff. McCarty’s husband is currently serving in Afghanistan. She said they cannot afford private school tuition and are troubled by the prospect of putting their children back into the public school system.
“To have them close [The Academy] down and have my children go back into a school system where the test scores aren’t any better is unheard of to me,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
McCarty said she refuses to send her children back to the public school in the district where they live. She said she is in the process of filling out transfer request forms to other schools — some of them are up to 30 minutes away — just in case The Academy closes.
McCarty said she and other parents are banding together to alert the community about the possible closure.
Dougherty has had two children attend the school and praised the personal attention students receive from their teachers.
“I don’t know what I would have done without this school,” she said.
Schoen said only three of the 10 state board members voted to grant the charter renewal. She criticized the board members for not making a site visit to the school. She said only one of them, Chris Greene, made the trip.
“I don’t know how you can vote on something you’re unfamiliar with,” she said. “How can people make a decision when they’ve never been here to see what we’re doing?”
The school’s Board of Directors are expected to hold an emergency meeting this afternoon to discuss how to move forward. Schoen couldn’t offer specifics, but insisted she would do everything she could to keep the school open.
“I can tell you I’m not going down without a fight,” she said. “I’m going to fight to the bitter end. Someone has got to be a voice for these children.”
Contact John Krahnert III at (910) 693-2473 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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