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District opposes new charter school

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Posted: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 6:02 pm

If a new charter school is approved for Rockingham County, the local public school district believes it would have a negative impact. That was the complaint detailed in a letter written by officials from Rockingham County Schools and given to the North Carolina Board of Education. 

State laws allow school districts to share with the board any concerns they have over future growth if a charter school is approved. RCS made it clear it opposes the new charter school, to be named Providence.

“Rockingham County supports innovation and opening educational opportunities for students,” RCS officials wrote in a letter to the state board. “However, we do oppose the prospective charter high school since it will be a duplication of current programs and will impact the implementation of two new high school academies that began this school year and opening the other two new high school academies that start in the fall of 2013.” 

Impact on enrollment

The new academies became the focus of the response the district provided the N.C. Board of Education, but first it looked at how Providence might impact enrollment.

“The district has experienced a loss of student enrollment for the last ten years and we have seen the enrollment drop with all of our high schools,” the letter said.

RCS currently enrolls 4,160 high school students. Providence plans on educating 500 high school students.  If all of the students that register at Providence previously attended public schools, the district faces a 12 percent loss in the amount of high school students.

Impact to funding

The school district also believes Providence would impact the local, state and federal funding it receives.

At the current rate of $6,572 paid per student, multiplied by 500 students, the cost adds up to $3,286,000 if all of those kids come from Rockingham County.

The school district said over the past seven years it eliminated 240 positions and left 68 teaching positions vacant. The school cites discretionary reductions in the state budget as the reason this happened. The school district also said decreasing the number of positions allowed it to maintain the same dollar amount in local funding in six of the past seven years.

Due to these cuts, the middle and high schools in the district lost an average of seven to nine teaching positions. This loss impacted class sizes.

Despite that, Rockingham said it plans to maintain challenging courses for its students, maintain college preparatory courses for struggling students and offer courses students desire. Additionally, the school began offering graphic art courses at Reidsville High School, added equipment to technology classrooms at McMichael and Morehead High Schooland opened a fire academy at Rockingham County High School, which in 2014 expands into a public safety academy.

The Public Safety Academy is one of five options offered to high school students in the fall of 2014. The other options include the International Baccalaureate program, a health sciences academy, the Phoenix STEM academy and Rockingham Early College High School.

“The funding for the high school options will come from local funding and state funding, through our teacher allotment, [sic] and from low wealth funding,” the response from RCS said.

The letter explains each academy needs one additional teaching position. RCS believes the numbers of teachers may increase as enrollment grows over a four-year period. RCS plans an additional one or two more teachers when this occurs.

The school district said it does believe enrollment may level off and it might see a small gain in the next school year.

Impact to programming and student services

The district’s response explained how Providence could impact programming and student services. Its first concern is the loss in personnel due to decreased student enrollment because of Providence. The reduction in personnel impacts the district’s new academies.

Additionally, the district said Providence duplicates Advance Placement courses at three of its high schools and RHS’ IB program. The response explained that enrollment drives AP and IB courses and a 14 percent loss of the senior class forces the district to not offer certain courses. District officials said at that point it leaves students wanting a “broad challenging curriculum” with virtual AP courses as their only option.

Officials also reiterated their concern of needing 16 new staff members for the academies. District officials laid out in the response their plan to increase the number of students allowed to attend the Rockingham Early College High School but said despite the growth they don’t plan adding additional staff members.

Impact to school size and extracurricular activities

The district’s fourth concern, outlined in the letter, relates to the school size and extracurricular programs.

“We strive hard to offer academic and extracurricular programs that allow students to discover and grow the potential each of our students possess,” RCS said in the letter.

RCS worries a loss in students decreases the number participating in extracurricular activities. The district outlined the successes different programs had over the past few years.

“Morehead high [sic] schools’ [sic] marching band had 25 to 30 playing members in 2006-07 and on the verge of slowing [sic] eliminating the program,” RCS said in the letter. “During the marching season this past fall there were roughly 93 playing members and the band competed at several marching competitions winning top honors.”

Due to the district’s funding model, school officials told the state board, it found a way to fund both a middle and high school band director. The district expects 120 students to participate next fall.

It also detailed how choral programs thrive in the district and allow students to explore communities outside the county. Recently,McMichael High School sent students to San Diego,Calif.to perform.

The district also expressed concerns for the Reidsville High School Robotic Team and JROTC programs at the high schools.

Lastly, when it comes to extracurricular activities, the district explained its concern for the athletic programs.

“Our athletic programs could drop a classification depending on the loss of student enrollment at any of the four high schools,” RCS said in the response. “Even with the early [sic] college [sic] and the four high school academies we allow the students to participate in our athletic programs.”

District officials said Early College students play at their base schools. It said students attending an academy play for the team of the academy’s base school. The district tries to keep the four high schools in one athletic classification.

“If we had a shift in enrollment we could be competing in three different athletic classifications and conference [sic] which would result in traveling more than we do now with two classifications,” the district said in its response.

Concern over demographics

The district finds itself concerned over student demographics if Providence opens. Since no charter high school operates within the county, the district used Bethany Middle School’s demographic makeup as a model for what to expect at PCHS.

RCS believes 17.6 percent of Providence students qualify as an economically disadvantaged student. The ED population at RCS computes to 58.9 percent.

“Given Rockingham County’s high economically disadvantaged student population, we are concerned that not providing the national school lunch program in the proposed charter high school, in addition to the transportation concerns expressed previously, it will prevent a large percentage of high school aged students from applying because the unable [sic] to pay for the lunch plan offered by PCHS and cannot find reliable,” RCS said in its response.

RCS previously noted in its letter it plans to offer transportation to students attending academies away from their base school. This allows ED students to participate in educational opportunities they may miss out on elsewhere.

RCS told the state board of education this year the county faces its highest level of students classified as ED from the past seven years. RCS said it strived to offer academic opportunities to students allowing them to graduate and become productive citizens. RCS told the board it boosted its graduation rates and lowered drop out rates.

The graph showed ED students having a four-year graduation rate of 41.9 percent in the 2005-2006 school year. In the 2011-2012 school year, the number improved to 70 percent. The number for all students between 2005-2006 and the past year rose and fell through the years. The lowest percentage happened in 2007-2008 at 65.8 percent and the highest gain occurred last year at 76 percent.

More academies

In its final comments, the district told the board it plans to add future academies including a fine arts academy and LEAP academy, as well as a language emersion school in one or two elementary schools with a goal of doing so by the fall of 2014.

School improvements

The district told the board it turned around both Reidsville High and McMichael who Judge Manning’s placed on his list in 2006. The district said RHS needed quality teachers, especially in math and science.

“Senator Phil Berger was instrumental in helping change the eligibility requirements for the Math/Science [sic] Pilot awarded to Rockingham, Bertie, and Columbus County Schools to attract math and science teacher to the under performing schools,” the district told the board in its letter.

The district said RHS saw a dramatic turnaround in the 2007-2008 school year and continues to ensure student growth. The district said it knows the school’s improvement largely increased graduation rates for the district.

McMichael High also refocused its efforts in educating its students and might surpass Reidsville High as the top performing high school in the district.

PCHS referenced Morehead High School in its application and the district ensures the board of education it plans to turn that school around too.

“We are placing a large amount of energy evaluating the our [sic] strengths and weaknesses of our classroom instruction,” RCS said in its response. “The success we have experienced with McMichael and Reidsville High School are [sic] being applied to Morehead High School.”

The district listed many of the high school’s accomplishments but said the school lost several experienced faculty members which maintained and monitored traditions. It said the new faculty works to continue those traditions.

The district also shared it recent End of Course test scores with the board of education. It said it experienced improvements with in Algebra I, Biology and English 9, due to improve instruction and additional resources for professional development. It also credits improved technology in classrooms and offering more academic opportunities to its students.

History

The district’s response came as a result of an application for a new charter high school in the county. Providence Charter High School filed an application with the North Carolina Board of Education on March 1.

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