In fall, University City will become home to the Charlotte region’s first charter school specializing in science, technology, engineering and math, intended exclusively for high school students.
Carolina STEM Academy, a tuition-free public charter school to be housed at 7829 Old Concord Road in Charlotte, received final approval Jan. 10 from the State Board of Education.
Classes will begin Sept. 8 for grades nine and 10; grades 11 and 12 will be added in subsequent years. Once all four grades are in place, school officials predict a student population of 400.
Months ago, on the sidelines of a Charlotte soccer field, two fathers who shared a passion for science and technology began planning the new school.
“Our kids played on the same team,” said David Johnston, who co-founded Carolina STEM Academy with Julian Macri, the school’s president. “We started talking about schools, and how it didn’t seem like there were good alternatives for high school kids in Charlotte.”
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools offers two STEM-based curriculum options for grades nine to 12: Phillip O. Berry Academy and Hawthorne Academy of Health Sciences, a health-related STEM program. Some district high schools have STEM concept offerings, but they fall under career and technical education.
Next year, CMS will partner with UNC Charlotte to open an early college high school that will have a STEM focus and a special emphasis on energy. The school will be near the Charlotte Research Institute’s Energy Production and Infrastructure Center. The $76 million educational facility is aimed at producing the top-level future engineers needed for the nation’s growing energy industry.
Carolina STEM Academy will be the first all-STEM charter in the Charlotte region to cater solely to high-schoolers.
Concrete Roses STEM Academy, another charter school approved for fall, will house grades kindergarten through 12 and focus on under-served and economically challenged populations. That school will be at 8801 East W.T. Harris Blvd. in Charlotte.
The N.C. State Board of Education approved nine other charter schools in Mecklenburg and neighboring Cabarrus County for fall. Each will focus on various interests, from dropout prevention to vocational technology training and from college preparatory to basic school curricula.
In its charter application, Carolina STEM Academy anticipates drawing 80 percent of its population from Mecklenburg County and 20 percent from Cabarrus County.
Johnston, who earned a computer science degree from UNC Charlotte and has a background in robotics and machine intelligence research, said the new STEM charter high school will have advantages over both other charter schools and the local public school districts’ STEM programs.
Students will use the flipped classroom model, a concept in which new instruction is taught via recorded online lectures for students to download at home. That, said Johnston, will reserve classroom time for hands-on learning.
“So the school time is meant for that higher-order participation, not the rote memorization – not the teacher lecturing with the kid sitting in the chair,” he said. “It’s very much an active learning environment. You can’t really learn science, and you really can’t learn engineering, without real hands-on time.”
The school will offer longer instructional days to include flex time, or opportunities for students having difficulty with concepts to catch up.
For more information about Carolina STEM Academy, visit www.carolinastem.org.