Charter schools are changing public education in ways large and small, as I learned last week when I did some reporting for the annual enrollment story.
Normally we report numbers for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, and maybe check with Wake County for comparison. But with six new charters opening in the Charlotte area this year and 11 more pending for 2014, it seemed like time to start checking in on their enrollment trends, too.
When I called the two largest, Cabarrus Charter Academy in Concord and Langtree Charter Academy in Mooresville, I was told I couldn't speak to the local principals. (Another twist of charters is that county lines aren't particularly important; charters in this area often draw from two or three counties.) Both are operated by the Florida-based for-profit Charter Schools USA, and I was directed to a PR company in Fort Myers that speaks for the chain.
Is all information about these N.C. public schools going to have to come through you, I asked Colleen Reynolds, president of Edge Communications.
"Yes, all media goes through me," she replied. "Believe me. It’s much easier that way. I tell reporters that I act as a facilitator – not a gatekeeper. This way, if you need something, I’ll get it for you by your deadline. It’s similar to when you go to the district for district schools, you go to me for our charter schools. I will help you in any way that I can."
I feel like I ought to be chagrined. But the thing is, I had answers (including a follow-up about waiting lists) from Reynolds while I was still playing phone tag with local staff in three other charters. Both Charter USA schools had applied to take 661 K-6 students this year. Both filled. Cabarrus Academy has 838 students on the wait list and Langtree has 664, according to Reynolds. (Overall, three of the six new local charters fell short of the numbers in their applications.)
As for CMS, when I left Friday I still had no information on the 20th-day tally taken Sept. 23. Wake hadn't released anything, either. The rocky rollout of the statewide PowerSchool data system is apparently creating a holdup.
So stay tuned. And if you're a family having first-hand experience with the growing number of charter start-ups, let me know how it's going.