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Editorial: East Spencer provides lessons for Faith charter school effort

Charter schools aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution for education. And a group in Faith exploring the creation of a charter school might look to East Spencer for an account of the challenges that await.

The Essie Mae Kiser Foxx Charter School just wrapped up its first school year, and Principal Jonathan Pullium said things were rocky and tumultuous at times.

As reporter Andie Foley wrote in Sunday’s Post, the East Spencer charter school, after years of talk about the idea, received state approval in mid-2017. In June 2018, it received approval for a rezoning that allowed the charter school to move into a site on North Long Street.

The school opened its doors in August 2018, and staffing up was the most important task between the rezoning approval and the first day. Pullium hired six teachers, seven teacher assistants, two administrators, a custodian and a bus driver. There was transportation and food planning for the school’s students, too.

Then, during the school year, four staffers left. For a charter school with a small staff, that was a major blow to operations.

The school started with 102 students and ended with 85. As Pullium said, charter schools aren’t solution for all issues in public education.

“People come to charter schools expecting a panacea,” he said. “But we have the same, identical problems you see everywhere else, just on a different scale.”

The same truism applies to charter school efforts in Faith, where community members have continued investigating whether to start a charter school after the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education pressed pause on the latest closure and consolidation plans.

Importantly, a Faith charter school would need to find a building, as the school system, if it comes back to its Faith closure plan, may not surplus the existing elementary school in time. And, if the school system chooses to keep Faith open, a charter school would need a new building entirely.

Then there are matters of curriculum, hiring staff, food and transportation. As Pullium said in Sunday’s story, when he was hiring staff in mid-summer, there was a limited pool of staff available. Point is, starting a school from scratch is a monumental challenge, even if an eventual Faith charter school gives itself a more relaxed schedule before opening.

In Faith, East Spencer and elsewhere, charter schools may be the right solution for some students and families. But we hope the Faith community will look for lessons learned elsewhere, particularly those learned elsewhere in Rowan County, as part of their efforts to build a charter school.

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