Essie Academy plans to start next school year in former bank, expand enrollment

Published 12:06 am Thursday, June 23, 2022

SALISBURY — A local private school is moving just outside of downtown Salisbury as it prepares to start its second year of classes.

The Essie Academy name is familiar. The school was the former Essie Mae Kiser Foxx Charter School. The board, the name and many of the students are familiar parts of the school, but it has changed venues and adopted a private model.

Essie Academy Board of Directors Vice Chair James Davis, who is also executive director of Communities in Schools Rowan, said the school started exploring its options and found it could create a private model that would still be affordable, and often free, for families.

This is how it works: If a family’s income is below a threshold, they qualify for a state Opportunity Scholarship that helps pay to attend a private school. If a student qualifies for an opportunity grant, the school will cover the difference in cost so they can attend.

The school decided not to fight the state Board of Education decision to revoke its charter in 2021 after initially moving to appeal. A major point cited when the state revoked the charter was the school’s failure to produce timely annual audit reports, but Davis pointed out the school’s former education management organization, Torchlight Academy Schools, had the charter of its own school revoked as well as the charter of another school it managed. The state board cited financial and operational mismanagement by Torchlight.

In Essie Academy’s former life as a charter school, it sought approval from the state board to end its relationship with Torchlight, citing mismanagement and placing blame on that organization for failing to produce the audits. Davis said the school has been vindicated in the aftermath.

“After they penalized us, they found out we were telling the truth,” Davis said.

He said the original plan was to wait a year before opening the private school, but parent demand drove the decision to move ahead with the academy, starting with 37 students in Southern City Taberenacle AME Zion Church in East Spencer last school year.

The school has moved in to the lower level of the old bank facility at 507 West Innes Street and plans to stay there for the next five years while looking at a possible move back into East Spencer.

The school moved in to the bank facility on Saturday and officials have started moving tables, desks and equipment into the space. Signage is expected to come next week.

It plans to grow the student population to about 55 this coming school year. Davis said the school had to limit how many students it could take last year because of facility constraints.

“What speaks volumes is we have parents who have retained and students who are consistent with us,” Principal Latisha Feamster said. “That is the most important thing here, is that they know we’re educating their children, because if not we would have not retained any.”

Feamster said many of the students began attending the school in 2018. She said the school maintains a family environment.

“We know our parents, our students, we know our reputation that stands out in the community with partnerships,” Feamster said.

The school has big plans for the coming year, including an international partnership with a school in Kenya to give its students global exposure, field trips, financial literacy, nutrition and after-school programs.

“We are doing what we know as far as education is concerned, to make sure parents are satisfied with our education,” Feamster said.

Feamster said the school will also have a virtual Spanish curriculum taught from kindergarten to the upper grades. The school serves grade K-8 now, but adding high school grades in the future is on the table, too.

The school has been fundraising throughout the year, and combined with Opportunity Scholarships, Davis said the school has built up some savings to fund the school.

“As long as parents are doing the Opportunity Scholarship, we will find the money to cover the rest of their tuition,” Davis said.

“We’ve worked meticulously on having funding and making sure it’s continually here,” Davis said, adding the school plans to make improvement to the facility and it has all the safety features the school wants.

The school still owns a bus and provides transportation as well. Plans are to begin the next school year with four teachers, and Davis said they want to keep class sizes small, about 10 students to one teacher, so they can have more individualized learning. The school is open fro 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays for parents to get more information.

“They have more access to teachers, they have more access to one-on-one. We’re doing more project-based learning,” Davis said. “We’re putting all those things into place so we can achieve student growth. One of our monikers is we’re looking at growth over everything, because once we focus on that growth we can get thee kid to where they’re supposed to be.”

Sera Foxx started teaching kindergarten and first grade at the school last year and part of the attraction was her own children go to school at Essie Academy.

“Also it’s a Black school in a Black community where we can make sure our community has a school we can be proud of,” Foxx said.

She said she likes the small setting because it allows her to dial in on what each student needs.

“I don’t have too many, where I get lost, where they get lost, too,” Foxx said, adding having a facility of the school’s own is exciting.

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About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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