School choice showcased at local charter school

by Miriah Hamrick
Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Staff photo by Cole Dittmer 

Wilmington City Councilman Neil Anderson looks on while students at the Douglass Academy charter school read on Friday, Feb. 28, during an official tour of the school. 

A small group of local government leaders attended a tour of Douglass Academy on Feb. 28 intended to showcase educational opportunities provided by public charter schools

The inaugural tour at Douglass was part of a larger effort by the North Carolina branch of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation to celebrate school choice following the General Assembly’s 2011 vote to eliminate the cap on charter schools. 

Douglass Academy’s headmaster Barbra Jones said the event was originally planned to coincide with National School Choice Week during the last week of January, but ice storms delayed the event.

Before the cap was eliminated, a maximum of 100 charter schools were commissioned in North Carolina For the 2013–14 school year, 127 charter schools operated across the state. 

Douglass Academy is one of four charter schools in New Hanover County, located in the Peabody Building on North Sixth Street.

In a speech to attendees, Paige Freeman, area field director for the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, said the organization “applauds Douglass Academy for giving students options, choices, and opportunities they didn’t have before.” 

Douglass Academy opened in August 2013 to students in grades kindergarten through second. It’s owned by Roger Bacon Academy, a company that operates charter schools across Southeastern North Carolina.

Jones said when they started the application process, they were targeting students in the Greenfield and Hillcrest areas.

“These were students in housing communities that were attending two of the worst-performing schools in New Hanover County, Snipes and Rachel Freeman,” Jones said. 

Jones, who is personally concerned about the achievement gap in North Carolina schools, is passionate about providing these students with a quality education in a public school setting at Douglass. 

“If you look at EOC scores, there is an achievement gap between black students and white students, sometimes as much as 30 or 40 percent. That definitely means kids that look like me are not part of what’s expected as far as achievement,” she said. 

During the tour led by Jones, the methods Roger Bacon Academy Founder Baker Mitchell outlined as the defining differences in charter school education were clear. 

“The difference is in classroom management strategies we use to achieve a good learning environment. The difference is in the curriculum we use. The difference is in the instructional methods we use,” he said. 

Next year, the school will offer third grade, with plans to add a grade per year ending with fifth grade in 2017. 

Notable attendees included N.C. State Representatives Rick Catlin, R-New Hanover; and Ted Davis, Jr., R-New Hanover; New Hanover County Commissioners Chairman Woody White; and New Hanover County Board of Education Members Derrick Hickey and Tammy Covil. 

Hickey said he is an advocate of school choice.

“The New Hanover County Board of Education is concerned with what’s best for each and every child. Different educational settings suit different kids. We want to meet the needs of all children,” he said.

Hickey acknowledged that there is an “adversarial relationship” between public schools and charter schools, citing the common concern that charter schools take funding away from public schools. 

But he said charter schools can also alleviate demand in an overcrowded school system.

“New Hanover County is fortunate to be a growing community, but that means we have a growing school system,” Hickey said. “I can’t say charter schools are right for everyone, but it’s another option. And because we do have an overcrowding problem, it’s good to have options.”

Still in its first year of operations, Douglass Academy has approximately 36 students enrolled. More than 90 students are already enrolled for next year, with enrollment open for another four or five weeks.  

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