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State OKs 11 new charter schools for Charlotte area

The Charlotte region will remain at the center of North Carolina’s charter-school boom for at least one more year, as the state Thursday approved 11 new schools to open in Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties in 2014.

The N.C. Board of Education approved 26 charters statewide, including nine in Mecklenburg and two in Cabarrus. The new schools expect to serve about 3,200 students in 2014-15, growing to about 9,900 total seats as they add grades.

No other area had nearly as many. The Triangle area will get six new schools, including four in Wake County, which has the state’s largest public school district.

Charters are an alternative type of public school, approved by the state and run by independent nonprofit boards (some contract with for-profit management companies). They charge no tuition and are not limited by county lines or other attendance boundaries. Unlike regular public schools, they don’t have to offer busing or meals, and they don’t get local money for buildings.

Since state lawmakers lifted the 100-school cap in 2011, the state has seen a surge of interest in charters, especially in the Charlotte region. This year 23 new charters opened statewide, including six in the Charlotte area.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, which serves about 80 percent of the county’s school-age children, is also continuing to grow – and leaders are boosting the number of magnets, alternative schools and other academic options designed to keep CMS competitive.

The charter schools approved Thursday for Mecklenburg County:

•  Carolina STEM Academy, a high school planned for the UNC Charlotte area with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

•  Charlotte Charter High and West Charlotte Charter High, both dropout prevention and credit recovery schools run by Accelerated Learning Solutions, a Florida charter chain. One will be in the Eastland Mall area and the other on Charlotte’s westside.

•  Charlotte Learning Academy, a middle/high school opening near uptown Charlotte to serve at-risk students.

•  Concrete Roses STEM Academy, a K-12 school with a STEM focus, targeting at-risk students.

•  Entrepreneur High School, which will focus on providing vocational-technical skills to prepare graduates for the job market.

•  Pioneer Springs Community School, a private elementary school in northeast Charlotte that will convert to a charter and eventually add middle and high school. The school uses the “Basic School” philosophy.

•  Thunderbird Preparatory School, opening as an elementary school using the “Core Knowledge Sequence” and adding middle school later. The application gives a Huntersville mailing address and says the student demographics for the area where it will be located are 87 percent white.

•  United Community School, opening as a “Basic School” elementary school in the UNC Charlotte area, with middle school coming later.

The two approved for Cabarrus County:

•  ACE Academy, which will open as an elementary school and later add middle school. The focus will be on entrepreneurship and character.

•  Bradford Preparatory School, a college-prep school planned to serve students in crowded schools in Cabarrus and Mecklenburg counties. It will open as a K-8 school and add high school.

Find more details about charters, including the plans for each school, at the N.C. Office of Charter Schools website, www.ncpublicschools.org/charterschools.

The application process for schools opening in 2015-16 has already begun; prospective operators must file letters of intent by noon Friday. Applications go through a long screening process before the state board decides which will be cleared to get state, county and federal money.

Helms: 704-358-5033 Twitter: @anndosshelms
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