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Shining Rock’s scores below most others

Shining Rock’s scores below most others

When Shining Rock Classical Academy opened in 2015, the public charter school was hailed as a victory for local proponents of school choice and promised to provide an academically rigorous, comprehensive college preparatory curriculum.

Instead, the school is underperforming compared to other local schools and is seeing a number of students returning to Haywood County Public Schools, where staff cuts instituted in the wake of Shining Rock’s inception are making it increasingly difficult for at least one school to handle them.

Even worse for Haywood County Schools, the state funding that would have normally accompanied those students who left Shining Rock after the tenth day of the school year doesn’t come with them.

According to data compiled Oct. 2 and provided by Haywood County Schools, 45 students chose not to return to Shining Rock this year, or entered Shining Rock this year when school started but have since left.

“When we start the year, we pretty much have evenly balanced class sizes and equal skill sets,” said Waynesville Middle School Principal Trevor Putnam. “Doing it after school starts makes it challenging.”

Putnam stressed that the school wasn’t having trouble integrating the 20 former Shining Rock students that are currently at Waynesville Middle School, but he may run into capacity issues if that trend continues.

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“We are having to potentially hire a sixth-grade teacher due to increased enrollment,” Putnam said; the HCS data shows six sixth-graders, seven seventh-graders, and seven eighth-graders who initially went to Shining Rock now attend his school.

That potential hire would be an about-face from the downsizing that occurred around the time Shining Rock opened and Waynesville’s Central Elementary closed; many attribute the closure of the school to the emergence of Shining Rock.

“I know there were cuts that had to occur — some of that was decreased class size, some of it was from the funding formula, and a contributing factor was decreased enrollment,” Putnam said.

Two sixth-graders and two eighth-graders formerly at Shining Rock now attend Canton Middle School, and there’s no shortage of elementary school students leaving Shining Rock, either; from kindergarten through fifth grade, Bethel and Clyde have two former Shining Rock students each, Hazelwood and Jonathan Valley have three each, North Canton has five students and Lake Junaluska has six.


School rankings

While the social atmosphere of a kindergarten through seventh-grade school — as opposed to the kindergarten through fifth-grade elementary and sixth- through eighth-grade middle schools prevalent in the Haywood County system — can’t easily be quantified, academic performance can.

Of 17 major performance benchmarks measuring grade level proficiencies in math, reading and science for elementary and middle school students, Shining Rock finished last in nine of them — far more than any other Haywood County school, according to data released by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction earlier this year.

By comparison, Meadowbrook Elementary finished last in two categories, and Hazelwood elementary one. Canton Middle School finished last four times. No other schools did. The district’s highest scores of late come from Riverbend Elementary, which was first in every single category, except for fifth-grade science, where Riverbend was edged out narrowly by Clyde.

For the 2016-17 school year, Shining Rock earned an overall score of 65; because the school uniquely offers grades K through 7, no insight can be gained as to how it measures up against HCS’ elementary or middle schools in that sense, although every HCS elementary and middle school scored higher than Shining Rock.

However, grade level proficiencies show the strengths and weaknesses of each individual school in the district.

Shining Rock’s fifth-grade science students and its sixth- and seventh-grade readers are far and away the best in the county, but that’s where the accolades end.

Despite finishing near the top in reading, the school finished last among HCS middle schools in overall math score.

Of those math scores, Shining Rock finished last in grade level proficiency for third through fifth grades as well as seventh grade; Canton scored lowest for sixth grade.

For the reading scores, Shining Rock bested only Hazelwood in third grade, was last in fourth grade, and was near the middle of the pack in fifth grade.

County schools as a whole, however, remained 11th in the state out of 115 districts, for the second year in a row; HCS composite score growth of 1.8 percent outpaced the state’s 1.54 percent growth, and of the 11 westernmost counties in North Carolina, only two scored better.


Dollars and sense

Shining Rock Director Ben Butler said that last year’s enrollment was about 350 students; this year’s enrollment is about 403, and the school has a capacity of about 420 kids.

While students changing schools isn’t unusual, the 45 students who didn’t return to — or left — Shining Rock represent a sizeable chunk of its enrollment.

“I think that number goes back into the last school year, as it seemingly bears no relation to our transfer numbers so far this year,” Butler said. “We have had some movement in our rolls this fall, but nothing that is out of the ordinary.”

Butler gives as an example families that moved out of the area for job opportunities, or homeschoolers, in addition to those who have returned to HCS.

“Ultimately families have to make the choice that works best for them, and we support our families always,” Butler said. “We are also very happy that we are at 95 percent of our capacity here, and find that families were eager to move off the wait list and enroll once they were made the offer.”

Butler says there is a continuing effort to improve the quality of instruction at Shining Rock.

“One of our primary goals last year was to improve the way we delivered our Core Knowledge curriculum, and we saw a dramatic improvement in our second year site visit from the Core Knowledge Foundation,” Butler said, adding that he and faculty are working to determine and address needs at the school. “The goal at Shining Rock is always to improve academically.”

If it doesn’t and the departures continue, it’s taxpayers and HCS who’ll be left holding the bag.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Bill Nolte of HCS said that Haywood Commissioners make a bulk allotment of about $13 million to HCS for what’s called “local current expense funding,” which can be used for almost anything except capital costs. That amount is $2,064.92 per student.

That allotment is first paid to HCS, which then must disburse to Shining Rock that same per-pupil amount for each enrolled student. That amount is billed monthly by Shining Rock, but Haywood County School Board Chairman Chuck Francis said that fluctuations in Shining Rock’s enrollment are reconciled each month, so overpayments or underpayments ultimately come out in the wash.

But that’s not so at the state level.

HCS receives $5,272.32 per student from the state; Francis said the total amount of funding is calculated based on the average number of students in class on the tenth day of the school year.

When students show up in HCS on day 11 — or on any other day after that  — the state doesn’t supply the $5,272.32 it would have if the students had enrolled prior to day 10.

“I was joking in the finance committee meeting the other day that we should turn around and bill Shining Rock,” Francis said, adding that it probably wasn’t legal or possible to do so.

It is, however, important that Shining Rock succeed — if it doesn’t, HCS could quickly be faced with an influx of students, but not an influx of funding.

Nevertheless, Waynesville Middle School’s Putnam said that no matter which schools Haywood students attend, the students themselves are what’s most important.

“We’re glad to have them,” he said of the former Shining Rock kids. “And they seem to be adjusting well.”

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