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Charter school finds a home

After signing a five-year lease for a 29-acre property on Ratcliffe Cove Road, just past the traffic circle in Waynesville, Haywood County’s first charter school will soon be able to move somewhere a little bigger than the single-room office it now rents downtown.

 

“What initially we loved about it was the location and the fact that it offers a variety of terrain so when the kids get out of the classroom, they’re not just on flat ground,” said Ben Butler, director of Shining Rock Classical Academy. 

The lowlands will house athletic fields and modular buildings, but the property also boasts a stream, forested land and a peak with about 250 feet of elevation gain from top to bottom. The school — which will teach its first classes in August — will place heavy emphasis on experiential education, Butler said, so natural amenities are important. 

“We hope to eventually purchase the property,” he said. 

Shining Rock will pay about $5,400 per month the lease the land, moving to a lump sum payment of $65,000 per year in October, and average $6,000 per month for the modulars it will use, with that fee working on a sliding scale. To help the start-up school manage the payments schedule a little easier, the company — M-Space Modular — agreed to charge $3,000 per month at the beginning of the five-year term and inch the cost up to $7,500 by the end of the fifth year. 

Shining Rock plans to break ground in May and set up the modulars in June in anticipation of the first day of school Aug. 19.

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The Challenge Foundation Academy, a nationwide network of charter schools of which Shining Rock is one, will foot the upfront costs of starting the school, which Shining Rock will pay back later. 

While a charter school is a public school, it operates more like a business than the typical public school in that new charters have to pay for all their facilities and other start-up costs before receiving money for their first students. Parents choose whether to enroll their students there rather than in their neighborhood school, and public funds travel with each student. 

Charter schools are able to cap their enrollment and, while their students do have to take state end-of-grade and end-of-course tests, they don’t have to follow the state curriculum or learning standards, and not all teachers must be state-certified. Currently, North Carolina has 148 charter schools.

Shining Rock’s initial facilities will consist of four modular buildings, three for classrooms and one for administration, Butler said. Each of the classroom buildings will contain 8,000 square feet spread over nine classrooms. Altogether, the buildings, parking area and athletic fields will probably take up about 7 acres, though the configuration won’t be certain until Shining Rock finishes working on its site plan. 

Also uncertain is the number of children who will actually enroll in Shining Rock. As of Monday afternoon, the school had received 251 applications for 308 spots in advance of the application deadline May 1. On May 15, a lottery will be held to draw for any overenrolled classes, and those students will receive enrollment packets with information about immunization records, transcripts and such. But because a charter school is a public school, students don’t have to put down any kind of deposit to ensure their arrival. 

“As far as who shows up at school, you know that when people show up,” Butler said. 

However, he’s optimistic.

“I fully expect by the time we get to May 1, we’ll probably be full in several of our grades,” he said. 

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