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Faith charter school project moves closer to reality

FAITH – Discussions about starting a community charter school here started when the elementary school in town and Enochville Elementary had their names pulled last year for closure by Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

Now, the prospective charter school, with the working name Faith Academy, is forging ahead and planning to release more information on the project in March with a public meeting 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Faith American Legion Post 327 on March 22.

Former Sheriff George Wilhelm is the spokesperson for the project. He said the school forging ahead now has nothing to do with Faith and Enochville schools being tagged for potential closure yet again. Faith and Enochville’s names were drawn again because they fell at the bottom of an updated chart that ranked elementary schools based on capital needs, efficiency in terms of electricity costs, student population and capacity. RSS staff was asked to bring information to the Board of Education about the effect on students of closing those two school.

The district has been coping with a slowly dwindling student population, leaving it with 5,000 empty seats in a district that serves about 18,800 students. The board of education has had some success consolidating schools but there’s been no completed projects lately to close them completely and move students to existing facilities.

West Rowan Elementary is the product of closing and consolidating Cleveland and Woodleaf Elementary schools. Knox Middle and Overton Elementary are moving toward being consolidated into a new K-8 facility after a change of course from a plan that would have renovated Knox but closed Overton.

Wilhelm said he went to the N.C. Charter Schools Association’s conference last year and picked up a lot of information for the Faith charter school project.

“Its been a great learning experience,” Wilhelm said.

Wilhelm said the application for the Faith charter school is dated for a projected opening in the 2022-2023 school year, but the hope is to get the school fast-tracked for 2021-2022. The group has hired Charter Success Partners to help with the planning process.

Wilhelm said, the charter aims to expand offerings of the prospective school to K-12, allowing a student to attend the school for all 13 years.

The application process, overseen by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, takes place in the summer. The Office of Charter Schools, external evaluators and the Charter School Advisory Board look at applications. If the advisory board approves an application in the first round, it moves to a detailed interview. If a charter application is ultimately approved, the school would typically begin a one-year planning period.

If an application is rejected, said Office of Charter Schools Director Dave Machado, a group seeking a charter can come back the next year with an improved application based on state recommendations.

Machado said 33% of charter school applications are approved, but that figure includes all applications. So, if a charter application is denied several times before being approved, each denial lowers the approval rate even though the same school may eventually be granted a charter.

Charter schools receive per-student funding from the state and county, but capital needs such as buildings and upkeep have to be funded by other means. Charters receive block funding with few restrictions.

Machado said charters do not have to provide bus transportation like a regular school district; though, some charters are able to. For in-county students, charter schools are required by the state to find a way to transport a student if that is a barrier to their attendance.

Faith Academy’s website says the school will have a transportation option. It will most likely be one or two buses with strategic pick up and drop off locations, the website says.

Faith Academy’s website is faithacademync.org and includes other information on the school.

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