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East Spencer charter school clears big step toward 2018 opening date

By Mark Wineka

mark.wineka@salisburypost.com

The N.C. Charter Schools Advisory Board unanimously approved last week the application for the Essie Mae Kiser Foxx Charter School, clearing a major hurdle and virtually promising the East Spencer school will open Aug. 27, 2018.

The decision at the state level in Raleigh came last Tuesday.

“I was in tears,” Whitney Peckman said of the happiness she and other supporters of the charter school felt. “We were thrilled and actually so was the charter school board. They had wanted to give us the approval.”

The N.C. Board of Education must give a final OK of the charter school’s application, and that should be a formality. The state school board has never denied an application which has received a unanimous recommendation from the advisory board on charter schools.

The N.C. Board of Education decision is expected in June, but could come earlier than that.

The local, seven-member board for the Essie Mae Kiser Foxx Charter School and supporters met Saturday morning at the Firewater restaurant in Salisbury for a celebratory brunch and “soft” announcement of the news.

A much bigger celebration probably will come later after the State Board of Education’s final approval.

“To say that everybody is excited would be an understatement,” said Peckman, a Salisbury artist and board member.

The proposed charter school is named for the late Essie Mae Foxx, a strong community leader in East Spencer over her lifetime. The school has been referred to as “Essie’s School,” for short.

The school’s application in September 2015 was denied. Peckman said the advisory board asked organizers to take care of “a couple of things in the application,” that was done, “and we’re on our way.”

“The learning curve is steep, I’ll put it that way,” Peckman said of the whole process of establishing a charter school and, among other things, learning the complex language the educational system uses.

“The second application was made infinitely easier because we had Jessica Knight-Miller basically as our consultant.”

Knight-Miller will serve as the charter school’s first principal. A curriculum specialist, she has a wealth of experience with a charter school in Mecklenburg County and with Teach for America.

Knight-Miller also is running for a seat on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education.

“She’s just an amazing woman,” Peckman said. “She made the process much more understandable than it was the first time around.”

The East Spencer charter school — open to the public — plans to start in 2018 with grades kindergarten through four. It will add a grade each year until eventually being a K-8 school.

It will aim for an enrollment of 150 students on a first-come, first-served basis. If the school ends up having more than 150 applicants, decisions on final slots will be determined by a lottery.

Negotiations are in progress for an East Spencer site for the school. Peckman could not reveal the location at this time.

The school will offer free and reduced lunches, “and we will have transportation,” Peckman said.

As expressed in the charter school application, the mission statement for the school says the following:

“Essie’s school will promote academic excellence and cultivate confident, lifelong learners and leaders by developing the unique gifts and talents of each student, nurturing curiosity and fostering creative and critical thinking skills.”

The application also said this:

“Essie’s School will bring educational opportunity to East Spencer in a way that leads to the transformation of the community.

“Students will be actively engaged in rigorous, authentic and meaningful experiences that stimulate curiosity and critical thinking. New knowledge will be applied beyond the classroom and students will grow as leaders in their community.

“A safe, nurturing and inclusive learning environment will be maintained, meeting the educational needs of all students.”

Peckman stressed the transformational power a school could have for East Spencer, which has been without a school for many years.

“What we have said,” Peckman added, “is that without a school East Spencer has lost its hub, and we think the school can return that and return a profound sense of community.”

Board members with the charter school include Tina Wallace, president; Larry Bolen, vice president; Dr. Nan Lund, secretary; Syed Ahmad, treasurer; Peckman; the Rev. Ruby Steele; and Jean Brooks.

Whitman said this board plans to add a parent as an eighth member in the future.

The charter school organizers had many community meetings and conversations leading up to their application.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

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