East Spencer eyed as site for proposed charter school

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A community development company has its eyes on East Spencer as the location for a proposed charter school.

If approved, Paul Laurence Dunbar Academy will open in the fall of 2017. The school would serve kindergarten through third grade the first year, and add an additional grade each year until it reached eighth grade.

The school would have a STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics, based curriculum.

“We have children in public education who are underachieving as it relates to math and science and a child who is intimidated by math and science is going to struggle to survive,” said Yusuf Muhammad, president and CEO of A New Beginning 2, a community development corporation that seeks to enhance social and economic development in North and South Carolina’s minority communities.

Muhammad said East Spencer is an ideal location for a charter school.

“It’s a community that does not have a school,” he said, adding that with no school, East Spencer is unable to take control of its future.

“Without education, the odds are against minority children,” Muhammad said.

“I’m really surprised there’s been a lack of development,” he said. “Their needs have been ignored for decades.”

Opening a community school could meet the students’ needs better and foster parental involvement, Muhammad said. “I’m hoping the proposed charter school would make a difference,” Muhammad said.

The charter model would require community involvement as well.

“A charter school would give the community the opportunity to have some control of the curriculum,” he said.

“The possibility would be great for the town because we don’t have an educational institution in town,” said East Spencer Mayor Barbara Mallett. “We would welcome it.”

“We need a hub for the children,” she added.

Plans for Paul Laurence Dunbar Academy are still in the beginning stages.

Muhammad said A New Beginning 2 has completed the charter application through the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and is waiting for approval.

They’ve also assessed the needs of East Spencer as a whole.

“The greatest need is education,” he said. “I wish we could open a school tomorrow, because the need is great.”

He added that early education can’t be neglected either.

“We hope to operate a daycare,” Muhammad said.

Although A New Beginning 2 has looked at several different sites, they haven’t decided on a location yet.

The Rowan County Board of Commissioners voted in favor of supporting the school earlier this year, and Muhammad said he plans to go to the East Spencer town board in the near future as well.

Like all charter schools, the school would be independently governed by a board of directors and run by administrators. The school would be responsible for meeting all the standards put forth by the North Carolina Board of Education.

Charter schools are free, and open to any child in the state. Local, state and federal dollars follow the child to a charter school from their assigned school district.

The Paul Laurence Dunbar Academy wouldn’t be the first charter school A New Beginning 2 has started.

Torchlight Academy in Raleigh opened in 1999 and serves roughly 380 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. The school has a 100 percent minority rate and is comprised mainly of black and Hispanic students.

While Torchlight Academy students exceeded growth expectations during the 2013-14 school year, only 31 percent of students demonstrated proficiency in end-of-grade reading, math and science tests. These two factors combined earned the school a D on its school report card issued by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Weighted on a 15 point scale, 80 percent of the score is based on achievement, and 20 percent is based on growth.

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