January 12, 2009

York Preparatory Academy secures The Gates location

A group with plans to open a charter school has struck a deal to build the campus in a developing Rock Hill subdivision.

A group with plans to open a charter school has struck a deal to build the campus in a developing Rock Hill subdivision.

If things go as planned, York Preparatory Academy will open in August 2010 in The Gates subdivision off Eastview Road.

The deal depends on whether South Carolina approves the group's application for a charter.

"We're very confident (about the charter)," said Craig Craze, who's spearheading the effort to launch the school. The state's charter school district is reviewing the application, he said.

If approved, York Prep would join a growing number of charter schools cropping up across the state. Since 2002, that number has more than quintupled, from eight to 41.

Charter schools, which get public money but don't have to report to local school boards, recently have been in the spotlight.

President-elect Barack Obama, during his run for the White House, vowed to increase federal funds for charter schools. Obama's opponent, Sen. John McCain, mentioned "choice and competition, (including) home schooling, charter schools, vouchers" as the best route to reform.

S.C. Superintendent of Education Jim Rex, a supporter of charter schools, has incorporated them in his push for public school choice. Along with offices for Montessori school and single-gender class development, Rex created an office at the Education Department devoted to charter schools.

York Prep would offer an alternative to public education in York County, founders say. As a charter school, it would be open to anyone. The goals include giving teachers a lot of flexibility in planning lessons. Class sizes would stay small.

Parent involvement will be key. Parents would be required to sign a contract promising to get involved, co-founder Michael Smith said.

In some ways, the school would be bare bones. Two administrators would oversee a campus divided into separate wings for elementary, middle and high school. There would be no cafeteria. Students would bring their lunches.

The plan is to open the campus in August 2010 with kindergarten through ninth grade, then add another grade yearly until the school is K-12. Enrollment would top out at roughly 1,300 students.

So far, Craze said, about 800 families have shown interest. Students would be chosen through a lottery.

The school was originally scheduled to open in August of this year, but Craze said delays in the application process pushed back the date.

Craze and Smith said they couldn't have hoped for a better location than within a subdivision in the center of the county.

They partly credit the faltering economy for scoring the spot.

Bill Hargrove, developer and part-owner of The Gates, originally planned a high-end subdivision with each of the 69 lots selling for upwards of $74,000. But as the housing market soured and lenders tightened credit requirements, fewer people showed interest.

Then Craze called.

"It seems like a golden opportunity," said Hargrove, who agreed to sell 40 lots, or about 50 acres.

His hope is that the school will lure potential buyers for his remaining lots.

The group will spend the rest of this year planning, interviewing teachers and devising a curriculum.

They expect to hold an enrollment lottery this fall and start construction next January.

What exactly is a charter school

A charter school is a mission-driven, deregulated, independent public school. The schools are tuition-free and operate on a 10-year contract called a “charter.” They tend to give educators flexibility to operate various types of schools that focus on specific missions.

Teachers, parents or community leaders can start a charter school. A new school can be sponsored by a university, nonprofit service provider, museum, theater or any other nonsectarian organization.

Charter schools in South Carolina are authorized by either a public school district or the South Carolina Public Charter School District. The authorizer and charter agree on the school’s accountability standards. Teachers and school leaders are free to choose curriculum, staff, hours of operation, the school calendar and the goals and standards of student behavior.

— S.C. Public Charter School District

Find out more at here.

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