CMS, nonprofit to open school at Boulevard Homes site

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will partner with a local nonprofit to run a new pre-K through eighth-grade school proposed as part of the redevelopment of the former Boulevard Homes community in west Charlotte.

The school board approved an agreement with the Renaissance West Community Initiative at its Tuesday night meeting. The public-private partnership has been years in the making and will jointly lead the 54-classroom school scheduled to open in 2017.

The new school, which will provide relief for Berryhill School and Reid Park Academy, will be built using $30 million in voter-approved CMS bond money, according to Renaissance.

The school will also serve as the centerpiece of the larger $75 million community revitalization at West Boulevard and Billy Graham Parkway.

Through community partnerships, the 41-acre community will also feature mixed-income and senior housing, child and adult development, health care services, a community center and more.

Laura Clark, executive director of Renaissance West Community Initiative, said the goal is to provide “cradle-to-career education,” break intergenerational poverty and bring additional economic growth to the West Boulevard corridor.

The new school is the latest step in a long community march toward pulling together government agencies, nonprofit groups and CMS to support students. It represents an acknowledgment that student success or failure can’t be separated from poverty, ill health, family turmoil and many other challenges that shape a child’s ability to learn.

“We can’t continue to expect the school district to solve every problem in a child’s life,” Clark said.

The Renaissance community project began in 2010, when the Charlotte Housing Authority received nearly $21 million in Hope VI grant money to revitalize the public housing site formerly called Boulevard Homes. The Renaissance West Community Initiative was created in 2012 in partnership with the housing authority.

The local initiative is based on the success that Purpose Built Communities, an Atlanta-based nonprofit, helped achieve at the Charles R. Drew Charter School, which was part of the redevelopment of Atlanta’s East Lake community.

But as local bond money for CMS construction projects slowed with the recession and as the national search for a superintendent got underway, Renaissance officials submitted an application to open a charter school.

After Superintendent Heath Morrison was hired by CMS in spring 2012 and voters approved $290 million in CMS bonds in November 2013, conversations about the Renaissance community school becoming a CMS school resumed.

Tuesday’s school board approval means Renaissance West’s charter application will be withdrawn.

While a charter school can’t dictate the boundaries of the students it serves, Clark said, as part of the CMS district, the Renaissance West community school can serve students in the surrounding Billy Graham, West Boulevard and Little Rock Road areas.

The next phase of the project will be for CMS and the Charlotte Housing Authority to agree on a location for the school, which officials hope can be part of the Renaissance campus. Observer staff writer Ann Doss Helms contributed.