Two new charter schools for Rowan among 156 sought across state

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 18, 2013

The N.C. Office of Charter Schools has received 156 letters of intent to open charter schools in fall 2014, two of which would be in Rowan County.
West Rowan Middle School teachers Karen Bostic and Steve Berger hope to start Shining Star Vocational Academy for ninth- through 12th-graders.
Berger said starting a vocational charter has been a vision of his for years, but it hasn’t been possible until a law eliminating the state’s long-standing cap of 100 charter schools was passed in 2011.
Since then, the state Board of Education has approved 25 new charter schools, which are slated to open this fall.
Charlotte resident Sylvia Cole has plans to launch a second Cameron Creek Charter for kindergarten through 12th-graders. The first will open this fall in Mecklenburg County.
Charter schools are funded primarily through public tax dollars and are free to attend.
Berger, who supervises in-school suspension, said Rowan County needs an alternative for students who aren’t necessarily planning to go to a four-year college. That’s where Shining Star Vocational comes in.
“It’s just something I’ve seen a need for over the years,” he said. “A lot of students have great skills, whether it’s agricultural or automotive. They don’t just want to sit in the classroom and learn about algebra, they want to learn how to put a transmission in a car or go out and milk a cow and learn how to make cheese.”
Bostic, who teaches eighth-grade science, said throughout the years she’s seen students who aren’t motivated because they have no plans to go to college.
“That’s really disheartening because you know they have the potential, but they’ve already checked out,” she said. “Why can’t we offer a different track for these students, give them a vocation instead of college?”
Bostic said the school’s motto would be: “One student’s future at a time.”
“We want to expose students to what’s out there, give them tours and options and let them pursue their own passions and interests.”
The pair plan to personalize the school culture.
“Every child will have an adviser, who they’ll meet with every single day,” said Bostic. “They’ll also have mentors from the community.
“We want to change the school culture to where the kids are like family and empower them.”
Bostic, who has a master’s degree in school administration, is also a biology lab instructor at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, giving her exposure to a variety of students.
“I see a wide range of students from the middle level to the college level and realize that there is a need for career readiness and exposure to the real world,” she said.
Berger, who has worked for social services and served in a group home, said he’s looking forward to getting the community involved.
“We want the relationships to be kind of like a big brother program,” he said. “We want to find people who want to help in a particular child’s education and steer them in the right direction.”
Bostic said they’d like to connect students to apprenticeships so they can learn specific skills to use in the work force.
If approved, the school will have about 65 to 70 students during the first year.
“We want it to be intimate. I want to know every single kid in my school, everything they are trying to do, everything they want to do,” Berger said. “I don’t want anyone falling through the cracks because I don’t know what’s going on.”
The pair said they’ve enjoyed teaching in the traditional public school setting, but they feel the charter could give them more flexibility to reach students who are getting lost in the shuffle.
“The public school system is limited,” Berger said. “The resources and manpower are just not there.”
Cole, who has been a Title I teacher, said her vision is to create a “true community school for the 21st century.”
“We want to reach, capture and encourage the hearts of students, parents and community,” she said. “We’re going to use amazing tech-savvy teachers who have truly mastered their subjects area.”
Cole said students at the STEM-focused school will get hands-on experience through field trips.
“We need to show our kids the real world applications of learning,” she said.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.
The school will also offer family learning such as GED and English classes at night while students are on campus for tutoring.
Cole said part of the school’s goal is to make the students better citizens by creating an on-site pantry and community garden.
“I want to be able to create school without walls,” she said.
The school will also have a personalized approach.
“I think that’s important because sometimes we get away from finding out how they learn,” she said. “Not all kids are visual learning. Some learn by doing, some learn by listening.
“We need to know how they learn so we can cater to them.”
A health and fitness component will also be part of the school.
“If kids are healthy they are going to learn better,” Cole said.
The school will start with kindergarten through fifth-graders and grow to serve students in all grade levels.
Applications are due to the state by March 1. The advisory council will review applications and conduct interviews through May. Preliminary approval is expected to be granted in June.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.