Charter school sets opening for fall 2009

John and Christina Davis are looking for something different from what Rock Hill public schools offer.

They don't bash the public schools. But they find the opportunity appealing for their four children, ages 3 to 12, to attend a smaller school, with lots of parental involvement and only one campus for kindergarten through 12th grade.

So, the Davises signed on board with York Preparatory Academy, a charter school scheduled to open in York County in fall 2009.

The school is in the planning stages. It must submit a formal application to a state advisory committee and the state charter school district before it can open.

"We are not adversarial to public schools, frankly, we are a public school," said Rick Walker of Starboard Partners, a North Carolina company that is helping fund the school and get its doors open.

"We are merely a different focus and provide just a different way of doing it, and our choice is through an integrated K-12 school," Walker said. The school would never be larger than 1,200 to 1,300 students, he said.

The plan is to open with 800 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. One grade will be added each year until the school serves students through 12th grade.

Students will focus on building a foundation in math, social studies, science and language arts. They also will be taught physical education, health, foreign language, fine arts, computer technology, environmental and consumer education and character education.

Part of the purpose of a charter school is to allow more leeway in decisions. The setup of York Preparatory Academy will be noticeably different from traditional public schools.

Students in kindergarten through 12th grade will be on one campus. Age groups will be separated into different school wings. A location for the campus has not been chosen yet.

"Being a small school, everybody's going to know each other pretty well," John Davis said. "Call us old-fashioned, but we like that concept."

There will be some mixing of students in different grade levels so that they can progress at their own pace. And middle school students might rotate their schedules, switching up which classes they do first and which they do last.

The school will depend heavily upon parent involvement.

Each charter school is governed by a school committee that can include parents and others.

"The involvement with the school depends on the individual," Christina Davis said. "They're all going to have different strengths. When you really pull at the parents' strengths and you learn what they can give, it will really benefit the school."

Rock Hill school board chairman Bob Norwood said he thinks board members will be open to the concept of a charter school in the area. Norwood said he has heard of the charter school idea, but hasn't heard many details.

"If it's something that's going to benefit the students and there's a need for that, those are the kinds of things we need to work together in our community to make sure that we consider," he said. "There's not a built-in bias about doing that."

The local school board will receive a copy of the charter school application and may send comments to the state board as part of the approval process. Students from other parts of the state will be allowed to attend.

The first charter schools approved by the new statewide charter school district, rather than a local school district, will open in 2009, said Joel Medley, the S.C. charter schools associate.

Medley said that in his experience, quality leadership, a good handle on school finances and a system for handling parental concerns are the three most crucial aspects of a school's success. The first few years after a school opens are the most difficult, he said.