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Charter school enrollment a moving target as opening day approaches

haywoodThe guessing game of how many students will jump ship from Haywood County Schools to attend a new charter school, Shining Rock Classical Academy, won’t be known until the first day of school next week.

But the most recent projections provided by Shining Rock last week peg official enrollment at 233 students in kindergarten through sixth grade  — with 185 of those coming out of Haywood County Schools.

That’s about 4.5 percent of the 4,138 students that will be attending Haywood County public schools in the coming year in kindergarten through sixth grade, based on projections.

The remainder of Shining Rock’s official enrollment to date — about 50 students — previously attended private schools, were home-schooled or are coming from out-of-county.

Shining Rock’s latest projection of 233 students is up from 200 students in mid-June but down from the high-water mark of 325 who had expressed interest during early sign-ups in spring.

School Director Ben Butler declined to participate in an interview about the school’s enrollment in the lead-up to opening day, citing more pressing matters to attend to.

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“We’re in the midst of teacher training and all the logistics of getting the school open,” Butler wrote in an email. “I apologize.”

Enrollment is critical to the school’s financial outlook. Charter schools get a cut of state and county education dollars based on the number of students it has — about $6,600 per student, with more for special needs students.

The charter school board predicated its budget for the coming year on 277 students. The per pupil allocation from the state and county will fund everything from teacher salaries to computers to the monthly lease for its school building. 

Fewer students means less money.

“Our budget will adapt to enrollment numbers. We do not anticipate reducing any staff,” Tara Keilberg, chair of the charter school board, said in an email.

Zeroing in

Shining Rock leaders noted that on top of their official enrollment of 233 students, another 37 to 45 plan to attend but haven’t submitted their official enrollment paperwork yet.

“Teachers are calling the parents of their students to encourage them to return all paperwork,” Keilberg wrote in an email. “We will know on day one what our student enrollment numbers actually are. This isn’t unusual for a start up school.”

Keilberg prefers to use the larger number of between 270 to 277 students — a number that includes those who haven’t turned in their paperwork yet — when talking about the anticipated enrollment.

In fact, that’s the number Shining Rock went with when reporting its enrollment numbers to the N.C. Office of Charter Schools in mid-July. Shining Rock told the state it had an enrollment of 277 students, when it only had paperwork from 240 students at that time, according to an email from Keilberg.

“We have 240 students who have turned in paperwork,” Keilberg wrote in an email in mid-July. 

That’s the number Shining Rock should have used when reporting its enrollment to the state in July, according to Deanna Townsend-Smith, the lead consultant for the N.C. Office of Charter Schools.

“It should be actual enrollment,” Townsend-Smith said. “We have communicated to schools that it isn’t verbal. We wouldn’t consider that actual enrollment. We have said it should be the actual applications you have received.”

The state charter office prefers to see new charter schools within 75 percent of their target enrollment when they submit their “ready-to-open” status report in late May.

In that report, Shining Rock listed its enrollment as 249. But it only had official enrollment paperwork from fewer than 200 students at the time. Depending on which enrollment number you use, depends on whether the school would have met the 75 percent benchmark that the office of charter schools likes to see.

“Any enrollment figures less than 75 percent of the projected year one (enrollment target) is cause for concern,” according to the “ready-to-open” rubric used to evaluate a school’s readiness, citing that the importance of enrollment that’s “sufficient to allow for financial viability and programmatic integrity.” 

Interest was strong among parents during preliminary sign-ups back in spring. In April, Butler told the newspaper that he “fully expected” the school would fill up in several grades. Currently, kindergarten is the only grade that is full, however.

Dr. Bill Nolte, assistant superintendent of Haywood County Schools, said there’s always a level of uncertainty about school enrollment until the first day actually arrives, with swings of up to 100 students from the preliminary projections for the Haywood County school system.

“Each spring we do a projected enrollment for the coming school year. This projection is used to tentatively allocate teachers for the coming year,” Nolte said. “Literally every year we have to make adjustments to the tentative allotments because the projected enrollment is imperfect.”

The latest enrollment snapshot from Shining Rock showed the following break-down:

• 185 students are coming out of Haywood County Schools, about 4.5 percent of the 4,138 students in grades K through 6 in Haywood County Schools.

• 11 are coming from private school.

• 12 from public schools in neighboring counties.

• 20 who have been homeschooled.

• 7 who are new to the county and didn’t previously attend school in Haywood before this year.



Where will the new charter school pull from?

A geographic trend has emerged when it comes to which Haywood County public schools are losing the most students to Shining Rock Classical Academy, a new charter school opening next week.

Schools in the Waynesville area are losing a greater percentage of students to Shining Rock than schools elsewhere in the county. The farther you get from Waynesville, the fewer students you have coming to Shining Rock. 

Shining Rock will be located in the Waynesville vicinity but won’t have door-to-door bus pick up, leaving it up to parents to get their kids to and from the school or to a to-be-determined designated pick-up spot served by a single school bus.

The following list of how many students have peeled out of each school is based on official enrollment applications that Shining Rock has received, but numbers will remain in flux as parents make last-minute decisions to go or not to go up until the first day of school.

The raw numbers can be misleading, since some schools have a much larger base population than others. So the percentage of the student body leaving each school is also included. 

• 20 students are coming from Central Elementary, about 7.5 percent of its student body.

• 23 students are coming from Junaluska Elementary, about 6.8 percent of its student body.

• 32 students are coming from Hazelwood Elementary, about 6.3 percent of its student body.

• 10 students are coming from Riverbend Elementary, about 4.8 percent of its student body.

• 22 students are coming from Clyde Elementary, about 4.5 percent of its student body.

• 11 students are coming from Jonathan Valley Elementary, about 3.7 percent of its student body.

• 9 students are coming from North Canton Elementary, about 2.4 percent of its student body.

• 9 students are coming from Bethel Elementary, about 1.8 percent of its student body.

• 4 students are coming from Meadowbrook Elementary, about 1.1 percent of its student body.

* Kindergarteners entering school for the first time are not included in the per school number. The school is reporting 47 kindergarteners.

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