In West Charlotte, a commercial real estate deal leads to a new charter school

A rendering of the Movement School.
A rendering of the Movement School.

The Movement Foundation is opening a new charter school next fall on Freedom Drive in west Charlotte, part of an ongoing effort to change a neglected part of the city just minutes from the uptown’s newest towers.

Casey Crawford, CEO of Fort Mill-based Movement Mortgage and co-founder of the Movement Foundation, said the goal is to start with one school and eventually grow the model, expanding to more locations and other cities. The Sugar Creek Charter School serves as the model for and is partnering with the Movement School, which plans to open next year with 300 students in kindergarten through second grade.

“We want to see the generational chains of poverty broken,” said Crawford. The school will be built in a former K-Mart at 2701 Freedom Drive that’s now sitting idle. “Our construction crews are ready to start swinging hammers.”

The tuition-free school will open in the fall of 2017, Crawford said, and will add a grade each year after that as students move up. The state approved their charter application earlier this year.

Mecklenburg County real estate records show the Movement Foundation acquired the 17.9-acre defunct shopping center for $4.3 million, in a deal that closed in March. Altogether, Crawford said investment in the property will total $12 million.

The site is the foundation’s second purchase on that stretch of Freedom Drive. The Movement Foundation bought a disused machine shop at 2225 Freedom Drive in 2013 for $233,500, and spent about $3 million renovating the building into a hub for social services organizations. The space is used by churches, community groups, the Harvest Center food bank, after-school mentoring and others.

“We took, really, a commercial real estate investment approach,” said Crawford.

Most of the students at Movement School will be low-income and many will be minorities. Crawford said one of the reasons he wanted to open another charter school is the 500-student waiting list at Sugar Creek Charter. Jamie Sumter, who is an administrator at Sugar Creek Charter School, will direct the Movement School, and Cheryl Turner, principal at Sugar Creek, is on the Movement School’s board.

Students will apply to Movement School and admissions will be determined by a lottery.

Crawford said he first became interested in educational inequality when he was growing up in a Washington, D.C. suburb. His father owned a hardware store in the city, and Crawford got to know his employees and their children.

“They were facing stuff I didn’t have to,” said Crawford. Now, with Charlotte ranking last in a study of economic mobility among big cities, Crawford said he wants to help change west Charlotte. He hopes the model works and can be replicated in more charter schools.

“The public sector and privte sector have to work together,” said Crawford.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo