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With the North Carolina General Assembly in session, I’ll be taking an in-depth look at the bills introduced in the state House and state Senate over the next few weeks and how, if ratified, they would affect people in Brunswick County.
When you step on the campus of Roger Bacon Charter Day School in Leland, it doesn’t take long to realize this is not the norm—that you are at an exceptional educational facility.
Whether it’s the uniformly dressed students, who first catch your attention, or the simple reminders of excellence posted throughout the school, the campus lives up to the expectations set by the school’s phenomenal test scores. It is obvious that learning is the No. 1 goal at this establishment, which, sadly, is not the case at all public schools.
A few weeks ago I was at Roger Bacon to talk to middle school students for a career day presentation.
My fellow career day presenter, Howie Franklin, director of the Cape Fear Regional Jetport and former Air Force One pilot, immediately commented on how different this school is from most others. It’s an almost tangible quality.
It hadn’t escaped me, either. As a political reporter, I knew one of the things on the new Republican-led state legislature’s agenda would be to lift the 100-school cap on charter schools.
But when you step foot in one of those schools, you finally see why. It’s hard to imagine why legislators even capped the number of schools to begin with. But now I’m really grasping at straws.
They also have statistics on their side. Roger Bacon has been honored by the North Carolina State Board of Education as a “School of Distinction” for the 2008-2009 school year and as an “Honors School of Excellence.”
The school has been recognized as a top-25 school out of the more than 1,850 kindergarten-through-eighth-grade schools throughout the state for its academic growth of its students. For the 2005-2006 school year, more than 92 percent of students scored at or above grade level on the North Carolina End-of-Grade (EOG) reading tests.
It’s not as simple as all charter schools are better than public schools. They’re not. Roger Bacon is better than most of its public school counterparts because the school has a commitment to excellence.
North Carolina has 100 counties. The 100-school cap has been in effect since 1996, and with some counties having more than one charter school already, this leaves some counties without a charter school.
Opposition to charter schools in North Carolina centers on claims charter schools don’t offer the same opportunities for lower-income students because charter schools do not provide bus transportation.
Most don’t have cafeterias. Opponents say this is a disadvantage to the economically disadvantaged students, leaving them unable to attend charter schools, but Roger Bacon serves a student body that is 41 percent economically disadvantaged, according to school officials.
My mother is a lifelong educator who taught several different subjects in several different schools in several different states and even received her education in more than one country. I believe that makes her more than qualified to discuss the merits of different education systems.
So, here’s what she’s shared with me. She works one-on-one with special needs students in a Wilmington public elementary school. They’re a Title I school with a great principal.
But they can’t assign homework. Yes, you read that right. Teachers cannot assign homework. Some teachers have attempted to sneak in some homework, but if they’re caught, they’re told it has to stop.
They have a cafeteria. They provide transportation. They have excellent teachers. But they don’t have the educational success like Roger Bacon.
Sen. Richard Stevens, a Wake County Republican, introduced the measure in the state Senate to lift the cap on charter schools.
Freshman Sen. Thom Goolsby, from across the river in New Hanover County, and 15 others have signed on as co-sponsors, and Brunswick’s Sen. Bill Rabon has repeatedly said he supports lifting the 100-school cap on charter schools.
It’s a favorable bill. Most Republicans support the measure, and they were probably clamoring over who would co-sponsor the measure.
Lifting the cap on charter schools is a great first step, but it’s only the first step in ensuring North Carolina has competitive schools and parents have a choice in the education of their children.