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Shining Rock adjusting to growing pains

fr shiningrockOperating a new charter school can be a learn-as-you-go process, and the Shining Rock Classical Academy board of directors is already adjusting to the expected growing pains as it moves into its second month of classes.

The board needed to adjust a few policies, set classroom maximums and make some line-item adjustments to its budget at its recent meeting.

School Director Ben Butler was happy to report that Shining Rock began classes in late August with a total of 218 students in kindergarten through sixth grade and that student enrollment is now up to 230 students. However, the charter school is only funded through the state this academic year for 226 students. 

Just like traditional public schools, the charter schools don’t receive additional funding for students who enroll after the beginning of the school year. On the other hand, they also don’t have to return funding if they lose any students mid-year. 

Shining Rock’s policy was that it would continue to accept students through Dec. 31, but Butler suggested putting a more finite limit on enrollment this year because of the school’s space limitations.

Shining Rock is temporarily housed in the Wilson Children’s Complex at Lake Junaluska until it is able to find a suitable building or piece of property to build a permanent school. 

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Board Chairwoman Tara Keilberg said the school’s contracted Realtor is still looking into a number of possible properties for the school but nothing has been decided yet. The charter school only has a lease with the Lake Junaluska space through the end of December, and it is unclear whether the lake will extend that lease.

While the children’s complex is currently meeting the school’s needs, Butler said they would be hard-pressed to accommodate more than 258 students. 

After discussing with teachers how many students they can handle in their classrooms while still offering the same quality education, Butler presented the board with a suggested cap of students in each grade. There are currently 41 kindergartners divided into three classrooms — the suggested maximum is 47. There are currently 28 students in first and second grade, and the suggested maximum is 32 and 39, respectively. 

Third grade has 35 students, and Butler said there is room for only one more student. With 31 students in fourth grade, Butler suggested a maximum of 34 students. Fifth grade has met its limit of 40 students, while sixth grade still has three more open spots before reaching its suggested max of 30 students. 

The board approved setting the suggested class size and enrollment limits for this year. Students can still enroll by Dec. 31 but will have to go through the lottery process for the next academic year after that date. 

The board also approved changes to its lunch and early release policies after noticing a few minor issues at school. In an effort to make sure students eat a nutritious lunch, the board changed the lunch policy to state that parents are not allowed to drop off fast food for their students. Students are encouraged to bring a packed lunch or order lunch from the school, which contracts with Kanini’s four days a week. On Fridays, the school orders pizza for students who don’t have a packed lunch.

Shining Rock has also had a problem with parents checking their students out early from class. While some have a reasonable excuse, others are simply trying to avoid the pickup line at the end of the day. 

“The last hour of school is still instruction time,” said school business manager Niki Irving. “We want to encourage parents not to check their students out early.”

Irving also gave the board an update on the budget. While the state recently passed its budget, she said the per-pupil funding amounts still haven’t been released. 

Irving anticipates Shining Rock will receive the second portion of its state funding soon, but until then, the school’s working budget is still a moving target. Based on estimates, Irving said the school is operating “in the black.” 

Board member Mike Mehaffey pointed out that about $1.2 million of the school’s total $1.8 million in expenses was going to salaries and benefits. 

“Is that normal?” he asked.

Butler said the figures were in line with the budgets of other charter schools, including Brevard Academy and Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy in Mooresboro. 

In an effort to raise money for the school, Shining Rock has established a Parent Teacher Organization called NEST — Nurturing Education for Students and Teachers. The PTO will organize fundraising events throughout the year and also raise awareness about the new charter school. 

“We’ll be fundraising and trying to put out to the community that we’re a solid foundation here for the betterment of the children,” said Carolyn Lacey, president of NEST. “I want the community to know we are a good thing — we’re here and we’re not going anywhere.”

NEST’s second meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Oct. 12 at the Wilson Children’s Complex. 

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