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One more approval left after Faith Academy clears charter advisory board

By Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

FAITH — Faith Academy, a would-be charter school, received approval from the N.C. Charter School Advisory Board on Tuesday.

Academy officials were interviewed by the board last month for approval and were asked to return in October with more information. Office of Charter Schools Director Dave Machado said having an interview continued is normal.

The last step for the hopeful school is final approval by the N.C. State Board of Education in December. With the vote Tuesday, which was unanimous, Faith Academy Chair George Wilhelm said he feels good about the school’s chances.

“This means so much to our community,” Wilhelm said.

The school plans to open for grades K-7 for the 2021-2022 school year and expand one grade level each year to eventually teach students K-12.

At the September charter advisory board meeting, there was disagreement about the strength of the charter’s application. Notably, Chair Alex Quigley said he did not think the application was very strong and wanted the school to demonstrate compelling need. In the end, Quigley supported the application.

The compelling need is a component of the school’s accelerated charter application.

The charter advisory board mentioned the prospective closure of Faith and Enochville elementary schools, and members said they were interested to see how the issue progressed. Since the meeting, the Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education scheduled closure hearings for both schools on Monday and Tuesday of next week. Wilhelm said the academy pointed to information in stories published by the Post about the possible closure.

Wilhelm describes Faith Academy as a community-focused school that will prepare students for technical careers or for entering a four-year institution after graduation. The school will implement project-based learning, he said. Projects would involve real efforts to improve the community that incorporate the curriculum.

Wilhelm said the charter wants to attract students from outside of Faith and Rowan County as well.

The academy’s board is made up of a notable community members, including Gene Miller, former assistant superintendent of operations for RSS. Miller told the advisory board the school’s location could be set up quickly with the planned purchase of a 26-acre property and a contractor to construct the facility. If need be, the academy would bring in mobile units.

The school wants to build a 38,000-square-foot facility with space to expand. Starting capacity would be 500 students.

Quigley questioned the validity of the accelerated application given the board does not already have a facility in place, but the academy plans to use local churches that have agreed to allow use of their facilities if needed.

Former RSS administrator Sarah Hensley is the head administrator for the academy. She said the programs at the school will weave through all grade levels from K-7 and help address a student’s weaknesses.

Hensley gave the advisory board an example of training and providing reading tutors who would offer students extended school days to work on their reading abilities as identified by the school. She said the school would provide students with transportation and give them a snack as well.

Quigley said the district will watch what the advisory board is doing. He expects it will make the decision to close Faith Elementary easier for Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

RSS will make a final closure decision at a meeting after the public hearing. By December, when the academy is scheduled to go before the full N.C. State Board of Education, the fate of Faith Elementary could be decided.

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