Charter school effort under way in Haywood

Part one of a two part series
By Jessi Stone Assistant editor | Apr 19, 2013

Several parents in Haywood County have formed a committee and are taking the necessary steps toward establishing what would be the county’s first charter school.

If all the applications are approved at the state level, the proposed Shining Rock Classical Academy would begin as a kindergarten through fifth-grade school. But the long-term goal is to have a K-12 charter school.


What is a charter school?

A charter school is a public school that receives public money but is given more flexibility and local control over operations than a traditional public school. Any child can attend the school tuition free and it is not limited to only Haywood County students.

“What makes a public charter school different from a traditional public school is that there is local and parental involvement and control over what is taught and how it’s run,” said committee member Julia Bonomo.

If a charter school has more applicants than can be admitted to the school, the students will go on a waiting list and a random lottery will be used when a seat becomes available.

Charter schools are bound by the same state statutes and standardized testing requirements as the traditional public schools. However, they are allowed to choose the curriculum and teaching credentials are somewhat different.


What’s the need?

Members of the committee said Haywood County doesn’t have many options for education other than the public schools and Christian private schools. They want their children and others in the community to have more options for education. They also want a more vigorous curriculum.

Bonomo said she knows several families that choose to homeschool or send their children to private schools because of the lack of options in Haywood. She sends her two school-aged children to private school in Buncombe because she felt they needed a “more enriched and vigorous curriculum.”

Committee member Melissa Peterson said the real interest was hard to determine this early in the process, but many parents have expressed an interest in the school. The number of students and classes will be determined further into the application process.

“But I feel confident we will reach max enrollment in a couple of years,” she said.

Committee member Tara Keilberg agreed that the school choices in Haywood were limited considering the population.

“A charter school is the kind of thing I want for my kid and anyone else that wants to participate,” she said. “I’m excited about making our best effort to bring a new school into the county and doing it in a cooperative way with existing institutions.”

Committee member Anna Eason has three children, and said she was “very excited about the prospect of a charter school for Haywood County. It’s a long and arduous process but with many rewards for students and the community.”


What is the process?

According to involved parents, the idea of starting a charter school has been floating around since North Carolina passed a law allowing charter schools. However, the state set a cap of 100 charter schools, but that cap was quickly reached.

“The idea has been circulating for 15 years as soon as it became an option for North Carolina,” said Peterson.

The exploratory committee officially formed last October and is still in the early stages of the process. Members are trying to meet a September 2013 letter of intent deadline and a November 2013 application deadline. If the applications are approved this year, the charter school would be able to open in the fall of 2015.

Organizers have partnered with The Challenge Foundation Academy Network to help guide them through what can be a long and tedious process. The foundation is a private charitable trust dedicated to offering support to charter schools. Lake Lure Classical Academy and Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy in Rutherford County and Brevard Academy are other charter schools associated with CFA.

“They reached out because of what we’ve done to support charter schools in the state and country,” said Joan Lange, national schools director for CFA/Challenge Foundation. CFA provides free services like marketing, application assistance, implementation of school technology and grant assistance.

Bonomo, a mother of four, said the committee first explored the many curriculum options for the school.

“There’s a lot out there, but we found the Core Knowledge Sequence (curriculum) is very well developed and used in a couple of neighboring charter schools,” she said. “We printed out the entire curriculum and put it in a big binder to go through and thought it met our goals.”

During the research process, the committee also looked into other charter schools in the region, they found many of the schools also used Core Knowledge and worked with CFA.

A big part of the process is finding a facility for the charter school. The organizers have a facilities subcommittee, and three possible prospects have to be presented in November when the application is submitted.

How would Shining Rock operate?

The charter school would be managed by one board, which the committee says will result in more accessibility for parents. While some charter schools have governing boards elected by parents, the Shining Rock board of directors will consist of 13 self-appointed members. Those members have not been appointed yet, but the committee members so far are made up of parents, health-care professionals, those in the legal field and small business owners.

The Academy’s mission statement reads, “Shining Rock Classical Academy: a Challenge Foundation Academy engages and challenges all students to excel. Through the integrated, content-rich curriculum, students will develop a strong foundation in critical thought, fostering a lifelong love of learning. We encourage local and global citizenship, and cultivate six core values within our students: Integrity, Respect, Compassion, Responsibility, Wisdom and Leadership.”

See Monday's issue of The Mountaineer to read more about charter schools.

For more information

For prospective parents who want to learn more information and keep up with the committee’s process, visit or

Core Knowledge Sequence Curriculum: a coherent, cumulative,
seamless, sequential and content rich curriculum, offering both breadth and
depth of study. We want to provide our students with a solid, broad
knowledge base and the tools to be able to think critically and analytically
as they mature into adulthood. We intend to engage and challenge students to
reach their full potential.

Shining Rock Classical Academy timeline

Sept. 6, 2013 — Letter of intent deadline

Nov. 1, 2013 — Application deadline

September 2013-14 — Founding board will travel to Raleigh for Charter School Advisory Council interview process

March-April 2014 — NC Office of Charter Schools Advisory Council makes recommendations to State board of Education.

May 2014 — State Board preliminary approval

July-December 2014 — State training provided to those with preliminary charters

December 2014-January 2015 — State Board final approvals

July 2014-June 2015 — Planning year

August 2015 — School opens