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East Spencer charter school reopens with strong enrollment

By Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

EAST SPENCER — Essie Mae Kiser Foxx Charter School opened on Aug. 17, the same day as Rowan-Salisbury Schools, and it has seen strong enrollment growth.

The first day was all remote. Principal Latisha Feamster, who is new to the role, said that provided time for teachers and parents to get a running start with remote learning.

Leading up to the first day, the school worked with families to make sure they had devices and internet access they needed to start school. To help with that, the school received support from a number of organizations heading into this year, notably Hotwire Communications, which provided devices for each student.

Feamster said the beginning of school has not been without its challenges, including some faced by other schools like trouble with virtual meeting software. But Feamster said the school adapted as challenges arose, pushing out virtual classes to other platforms with which there wasn’t trouble.

The charter school’s 150-student enrollment is diminutive compared to the 18,000 RSS students, but the community school is meeting its growth goal and families are continuing to enroll.

Essie Mae Board Chair Tina Foxx Wallace said community schools in East Spencer left over the years, and the school was started as a way to bring a sense of community back. 

Foxx Wallace said the pandemic has forced the school to implement some of its long-term strategies earlier than expected, including the school’s growth plan to reach more students outside of its center. She said the school is excited about where it can go and the impact it can have on the town as well as the county as a whole.

“As a school, overall, we’re coming out much stronger and probably progressing much faster than we anticipated toward our growth objective,” Foxx Wallace said.

The school took on a blended schedule similar to RSS and Kannapolis City Schools. K-2 students attend Tuesday and Wednesday, and grades 3-6 attend Thursday and Friday. Monday is an all-remote day.

The school is delivering meals to students via bus on days off.

Charter schools are public schools that operate independently from traditional school systems. They have to provide for capital needs like facilities and buses with private funding, but they receive allocations per-student from the state like public schools.

As a charter school, Essie Mae is subject to the same safety requirements as Rowan-Salisbury. It had to cut student density in the building by at least 50%, begin enhanced cleaning measures, require everyone to maintain social distance and wear masks.

Feamster said students have done well following the safety guidelines, and the staff models behavior they want to see in their students.

Emiliano Merced, the school’s new Spanish teacher, said the start of the year has been challenging, but it has gone OK. He said the school is encountering speed bumps, but it’s adapting. Merced said teachers will come out of the experience stronger.

“It has been a challenge, and it’s still a challenge, it’s still a process,” Merced said. “But, at the same time I know, and I’m 100% sure that this is not just a challenge for us. This is a challenge for the whole district, or the whole county, or the whole nation.”

Merced gave the example of learning a language through immersion. If someone lives in an area where people mostly speak a language they do not know, they tend to learn it quickly as a necessity. He thinks teachers will become stronger at teaching remote and be prepared for a future where blended learning could be the new standard.

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