When the Rev. Marty McCarthy got the calling to start a school, he soon realized one wasn't enough.
So he established two popular private Episcopal schools, in 2000 and 2007. Then, McCarthy created Regent Schools of the Carolinas, a nonprofit group dedicated to launching a network of private, "Classical Christian" schools throughout the Charlotte region.
Regent last fall opened Redeemer Lutheran Preschool in west Charlotte. By this fall, the group plans to open three more Christian schools across Charlotte:
-- >To the south, the Epiphany School of Charlotte is planned in Matthews. The middle school is for students with Asperger's syndrome, high functioning autism, and other learning difficulties affecting their social and communication skills.
-- Up north, Ramah Christian Classical School is set to debut in Huntersville for elementary-age students.
-- And planned in east Charlotte is Bethune Mays Classical Academy, named for two prominent African-American educators in history - Mary McLeod Bethune and Benjamin Mays. The middle school will open in the former Charlotte Merchandise Mart, owned by The Park Ministries.
Supporters say Regent schools aim to offer strong academics, diversity in student population and school location, financial help to families who qualify, and an emphasis on faith-based learning that public schools aren't able to do.
Within five years, McCarthy and supporters hope for an even wider network of Charlotte-area schools - including a high school.
"There's a real hunger for education that recognizes character formation that comes from spiritual development and intellectual development," said McCarthy, 57, a former pastor of St. John's Episcopal Church in Charlotte.
"Done properly, it really releases the child to learn to the fuller extent."
McCarthy and his family came to Charlotte from Richmond, Va., in 1995 for the pastor post at St. John's Episcopal.
"Within months, I had a calling to create a school," said McCarthy, who said he had no background in education.
Through church contacts and networking, he recruited a board.
Nearly five years later, in 2000, Trinity Episcopal School opened in First Ward, with about 100 students in modular classrooms. And soon, the school broke ground on its permanent space - a three-story building that's now fully-enrolled with 420 students in K-8.
By the time McCarthy started work on his second school - Palisades Episcopal - those involved in Trinity had no doubt Palisades would happen.
"People follow him and trust him," said John Crawford, a former Trinity board member.
Palisades Episcopal opened in 2007 in a collaboration with the community's developer, Rhein Medall Communities. The school initially opened at the YMCA's Camp Thunderbird, then moved back to Palisades in retail space provided by the developer. Plans call for building a permanent building on donated land within the community.
Although the first two schools weren't developed under the Regent umbrella, they set the example. McCarthy continues to seek partnerships with developers, YMCAs, and churches so the schools can organize quickly and become an immediate part of the community. The schools debuting this fall include a variety of religious and charitable partners.
The classical and Christian approach draws on two legacies, McCarthy said: Athens, for scientific principle and knowledge, and Jerusalem, for "Kingdom values" and knowledge of the heart.
"Absent of that kind of learning," McCarthy said, "much of education is simply information transfer - and that's what we have computers for."