Providence Charter High School has final approval to open this fall from the N.C. Board of Education.

“The board is excited about the opportunity to offer parents and students expanded school choice in Rockingham County,” Rockingham County District Attorney Phil Berger Jr. said. “Our core group has worked extremely hard. We look forward to preparing our students for success.”

Berger helped organize the efforts to launch a charter high school in Rockingham County.

The state board met on Thursday, Jan. 9, and approved 26 charter schools to open this year. The board included Providence on that list.

Facing opposition

Receiving final approval wasn’t an easy road for the board of Providence Charter High School.

The school faced opposition from the Rockingham County School district.

Rockingham County Schools’ officials wrote in a letter to the state board, “Rockingham County supports innovation and opening educational opportunities for students. 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.”

Rockingham County Schools Superintendent Rodney Shotwell decided to open his own charter schools around the same time that Providence started becoming a reality, but for Shotwell, this meant changing state laws.

Charter schools are public schools but act independently of the school district. Shotwell needed to change a state law to allow his school district to operate a charter school within the system.

Instead, Shotwell opened “academies.” These allowed students to travel across the county to study at other schools, instead of their home schools, for particular curriculums including public safety, STEM and health sciences.

Possible loss

RCS officials also noted to the board that Providence plans to enroll 500 students. It feared a loss of enrollment from the 4,160 students already in high school at RCS. This equates to a 12 percent loss in students for the school district.

The school district also expressed concerns regarding a $3,286,000 loss of local, state and federal funding based on the number of students RCS worries about leaving to attend Providence.

That concern hasn’t left.

“We look forward to working with Providence High School,” Shotwell said Thursday afternoon. “However; as a district, we do have concerns regarding losing enrollment and the financial impact the loss may have on Rockingham County Schools.”

For the board at Providence, it feels the approval helps the county’s students.

“School choice allows every child the opportunity to be successful and provides every parent with the satisfaction that they decided what was right for their child,” Berger said. “At Providence Charter High School, we will focus on students and families, not bureaucrats.”

Long process

Providence’s board also had to go through a lengthy applications process.

It began last year, submitting the application by the due date of March 1, 2013.

It, along with 70 other schools, submitted applications, though the Office of Charter Schools received 156 letters of intent.

In 2011, the state legislature eliminated a cap on charter schools. The state legislature did this after realizing 30,000 students remained on waiting lists for charter schools.

Thursday’s approval allows for 155 charter schools to operate in 57 counties throughout North Carolina.

In mid-July 2013, the Charter School Advisory Council voted to recommend Providence for approval along with 32 other applicants.

On Sept. 5, 2013, the state board voted to give Providence and 25 other schools preliminary approvals.

Since then, the board needed to go through a preliminary planning period before its final approval.

Providence will be the first charter high school in Rockingham County. Bethany Community Middle School serves as the only charter school at this time.

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