Tuesday, October 8, 2013

For NC charters, call Florida firm

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.


Wiley Coyote said...

...yet CMS still believes voters should blindly approve $290 million in bonds?

Uh, no.

By the way. What is this year's poverty number and has CMS completed a 3% audit of the school lunch program? If so, what was the error rate?

I'm sure CMS' "facilitator" has that info and enrollment numbers at their fingertips...

Anonymous said...

My daughter attends Langtree Charter after leaving a CMS elementary school. We love it! It's a fantastic learning environment and the teachers care about their students, the staff listens, and the parents work like mad as a partner in making that environment spectacular. It truly is a special place.

For what its worth said...

Ann we need to see an updated report on class sizes before the bond vote. The suburban voters need to know how much CMS is shortchanging them on classroom sizes and schoolhouse overcrowding.

Seeing that, they would vote down the bonds till CMS gets the NAACP out of Heath's office and dismisses a large percentage of its minority staff who have been placed as a concession.

Anonymous said...

YES-please post on class sizes!

Also, anything on helping out the over-crowding at Community House Middle? Why is that school bursting at the seams when nearby JA Robinson has 600 less students?


Anonymous said...

To the Langtree Charter parent - we are planning to explore charters for our son. Can you share what you like about Langtree? Is the curriculum different from CMS? Do you find the pace to be excellerated as compared to CMS?

Anonymous said...

Ann, which schools fell short on their enrollment expectations? Any thoughts on why?

Anonymous said...

We have two sons at Langtree Charter Academy and have been very impressed with the Charter Schools USA approach to education, the friendliness of the staff - including the CSUSA President who took the time to get to know parent volunteers and their role while in town for the Ribbon Cutting ceremony and Mrs. Roman is a truly gifted leader with a kind and compassionate heart for her students and keeps an open mind when receiving feedback from parents and takes an introspective approach before reacting to ensure only the best resolutions are implemented at LCA.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Don't mean to ignore good questions, but I'm off this week. I'll catch up next week. If CMS releases enrollment this week someone else will pick that up. Poverty numbers are generally tallied from 40th day of school, so who knows when we'll get that.

Anonymous said...

Response to the individual wanting info about Langtree.......There's no big fancy playground, some technology but not an impressive amount, and some of the classrooms are a little small. HOWEVER, there is a so much heart. At CMS, parent involvement is very directed and limited. At LCA, we can volunteer on the playground, cafeteria, and at the front desk. The parent is part of the school. It wasn't perfect those first couple of days. It took a lot of guts to stick it out but for those of us that did we are seeing the rewards. Our children are happy, well adjusted and learning so much more. All Charter schools in NC must follow the same common core standards as regular public schools. It's all about how things are done. A different approach makes all the difference in the world to a child.

Anonymous said...

If these for profit charters have nothing to hide why do they refuse to answer questions. Will these "public" schools also refuse to turn in information on crimes and other things that won't look good?

James May said...

Parents want good options for their children, other than CMS. I've heard great things about Covenant Day school (Matthews), Omni Montessori (Charlotte) and St. Matthew ES (Charlotte). Parents, you just need to look if the "system" isn't working for your child. No wonder Charter schools are popping up all over the place.

Anonymous said...

Schools and number of classes over 35 Students

From a report Ann had about a year ago.

Myers Park: 173
Ardrey Kell: 137
South Meck: 101
Mallard Creek: 96
Providence: 93
Hopewell: 73
Hough: 70
Butler: 63
North Meck: 47
Independence: 35
Vance: 35
Waddell: 25
Olympic Renaissance: 21
West Meck: 18
Olympic Math/Science/Technology: 17
Olympic International Business/Finance: 7
Rocky River: 7
East Meck: 5
Northwest School of the Arts: 5
Olympic International Studies: 5
Garinger Leadership: 4
Garinger Business: 2
Harding: 2
Garinger International Studies: 1
Garinger Math/Science: 1
Olympic Biotech: 1
Berry: 0
Cato: 0
Marie G. Davis: 0
Performance Learning Center: 0
West Charlotte: 0

Anonymous said...

Both of my children gratefully were selected in the lottery to go to Langtree Charter. We had them both at a private school, and we couldn't continue to pay that amount (the size of a house payment) again this year. We have been beyond happy with the change. The school is top notch, the teachers are phenomenal and Principle is impressive! It is nice to have a choice for a great education that you don't have to pay for!

Anonymous said...

Anyone talk to the teachers of these charter schools? That is the best way to find out what is really going on. Perhaps check out the school reviews for other schools under this Florida firm... Charter Schools USA.

Anonymous said...

Instead of being the death of public schools as some rabid wags have claimed, perhaps Charters aren't such a bad idea.

Sounds to me like they are one of the bright spots in our public education system.

Of course, like all "good things" we need to monitor them closely.

Because we all know how easy it is to fool the public.

Some even make a profession of it.

Anonymous said...

My son left a CMS elementary in LKN area to attend Langtree Charter. He was hesitant, but he reports the switch was worth it. He says he does less worksheets and is asked to think more. He's 11, but it sounds more interactive. We could not be more pleased with his excitement about school. This is what will make him be successful, his desire to be their and do well.

I don't find the school secretive and have never been denied an answer to my question. I find Mrs. Roman to be a strong leader with a heart!

Anonymous said...

I have two sons at Cabarrus Charter. The first couple of weeks were hard opening a new school in a brand new facility with staff that had never worked together and 660+ students that were mostly new to each other but being patient and having an open mind has really made it a success. Our principal is WONDERFUL and is very attentive to everyone. Her passion is amazing and every time she speaks, I get tears in my eyes. Our goal was to find an education that was more rigorous than where we were in Cabarrus County and to find something long term. I believe we have found it! The parent involvement is amazing and that makes a huge difference in the function of the school and especially the behavior of the children. The teachers do work extremely hard and have put in a tremendous amount of hours and it appears many of them are happy. I know this first year will have many bumps in the road and I went into this totally expecting them. This environment is not for every family or every teacher but it works for us! Charter Schools USA has really perfected their model and I believe it will be very successful in NC. I'm not sure NC realizes what has arrived!! Now, if we can get the Cabarrus County School system to not be so bitter and embrace a healthy competition we will really be doing well!

Anonymous said...

Regarding Langtree Charter, we are disappointed. I know there will be issues the first couple of years but, unfortunately, there are issues that go beyond hiccups. Many (most) of the classrooms have NO windows (and I could go on and on and on regarding actual building issues) but it just has been disappointing beyond measure. We just pulled our daughter and are putting her back in the local public school. This experience has shown us how wonderful our local public school is here in Mooresville! There are parents who LOVE Langtree so I would keep an open mind...it is just NOT for our family. There have been 3 (that I know of) teachers who have already quit and dozens of children have dropped out of Langtree. There will be some folks from Langtree who will write all kinds of angry comments due to my comment on here but it will be the same parents who have said, "this is the greatest school ever!" before it even opened! They are wanting this to be a great school and I hope it becomes a great school. Unfortunately, I don't see the appeal (at all) and obviously several other parents and teachers agree with me as they are also leaving Langtree. I wish everyone the best at Langtree. Good luck!

George Holm said...

Langtree has been great for our two boys, 5th and 6th grade. The overall atmosphere is great and the teachers are getting coached by a very good principal Mrs. Roman. In most public schools the principal is worrying about the (run down) facility. At LCA the teachers, staff and families are focusing on the education. Carpooling etc might not be a fit for everyone and we are all allowed to express our opinions. But I'm pretty sure most families that are a part of this now are VERY PLEASED. (I'm not in favor of blogs where you can leave anonymous comments...:)

Anonymous said...

Thanks Anon 9:10. I knew about that article. I did not think it was about last year but the school year before that.

I remmember they would not let Ann vist Myers Park but they did let her visit Mallard Creek HS. Some of that was political becuaseMalard Creek has more midle class blacks who behave better are more on track academically. They key I thought was that students had to get to class early to have a seat or they say on the floor. Those issues seemed unimportant to the BOE and the superintendent. They were more into cozing up to the NAACP.

Anonymous said...

You have reported almost 17 new charters in a 2 year period. This will help CMS by reducing some classroom numbers hopefully. If I could trust the CMS enrollment they putout every year I could make sense of the data. Who knows CMS might even be able to plan for class sizes if they knew the real data.
The charters should be welcomed with open arms to hold. CMS accountable. Keith W. Hurley

Anonymous said...

To the parent who pulled your child out of Langtree Charter........ Best of luck to you. The parents I saw leaving Langtree were the parents who didn't bother to educate themselves about charter schools in the first place. They didn't have the patience it takes to be involved in a charter school. It's a partnership between parent and school. I was cautiously optimistic about our leaving CMS. I wasn't jumping for joy. I got educated about the school and I had patience. My daughter is in one of those windowless classrooms. She has never mentioned it ever. After the first week, she said, " I would never go back to my old CMS school." At that point, any fear I had went away. It's not about how many windows a school has or whether or not it has a gym.....It's about the education. Anyone who can't understand or see that shouldn't be at a charter school. Leaving an old school for a brand new charter school is a huge leap faith for a teacher, parent and a child. It's not for everyone. Some families and teachers are ready for it and some aren't. As a parent who volunteers all the time, I see first hand the improvements and the progress. I am thrilled my 3rd grader has the opportunity to broaden her horizon with new teaching methods and activities. It's an fantastic school!

Anonymous said...

This information proves that charter schools are not "public" schools, but private schools that receive public money. To the person who commented that increasing charter schools should help alleviate overcrowding in public school: in fact, the exact opposite occurs. For every student in a charter school, the local school district must give the per-student allotment (money from the state) to the charter school. Thus, there is LESS money for the public schools. Charter schools are a farce. If you don't like the public schools, pay to go to a private school, or lobby the state for better schools. Running from the problems won't help anyone in the end.

Shamash said...

Lobby the state for "better" schools?

Isn't that how Charter schools got started in the first place?

Let the parents who choose the Charters decide if they're a "farce" or not.

As for the other options, they are still there for those who choose (and/or can afford) them.

No particular "type" of school, public, private or charter is necessarily better or worse than the others.

There are some trends and patterns, but it's still no guarantee.

I don't see this as the downfall of public schools at all.

(Despite what Diane Ravitch NOW says...)

Anonymous said...

7:06 your comment makes no sense. We don't need bonds passed in Charlotte with 17 free schools on the way as charters. It's not about CMS not having the funding that goes to charters for the kids. The funding of course follows the student so CMS has to become accountable. If you think they are accountable now then enjoy your cough syrup. If you need a education on supply and demand let me know. If you need a refresher in economics feel free to give me a jingle. If you want 35 kids in a classroom to try to learn then carry on. Keith W. Hurley

Anonymous said...

Mr. Hurley,
You might want to apply the same mantra you continually espouse for CMS to the Florida for profit folks. A little research seems to point at many of the same problems from overstuffed classrooms, low pay, under qualified teachers, bean counter priorities, employee turnover, etc. As 9:47 suggested, check out the reviews and especially the longer pieces on the management priorities, no curriculum, lack of supplies and year long teaching to the test. Sound familiar?

Anonymous said...

7:06 has a point about them being private schools. Charter Schools USA is a for profit company, running charter schools across the nation for a profit. People tend to call those private businesses.

As far as your comment about not needing bonds due to the "free" 17 charter schools opening. How many of those 17 schools are providing lunch and transportation services? What is the total capacity of those schools? What grades do they serve? Are they going to be required to accept students over their capacity? What happens if a charter school doesn't get enough applicants for its capacity?

Are the charter schools going to be required to take students from other charters when they close their doors?

I am not saying that CMS doesn't have its issues because it does. However, to think that schools don't need to be renovated\replaced or even new schools built to keep up with increasing enrollment is shortsighted.

Ashley Holmes

Shamash said...

Why is it that so many people are opposed to "profit" in a classroom while they mostly seem okay with "waste"?

Again, I don't see much data indicating that profit vs. non-profit matters much.

And we all know from our experiences with "non-profit" hospitals that non-profit DOES NOT mean that no one is skimming a lot of money off operations for their own benefit.

Many "non-profits" pay huge salaries and otherwise waste tons of money.

And many of them are downright inefficient as well.

United Way, anyone?

I prefer to judge the schools by their results, not necessarily by their "business model".

And those "results" may be different for different parents.

No one shoe fits all.

So, in general, Charter schools still look like a good option to have to me.

Wiley Coyote said...


Before we closed schools, there were schools with around 50%+/- capacity. We closed schools and did fine without them.

We also seemed to have functioned the past 6 years without renovations and other projects from the last bond package.

School systems see closing schools as a failure instead of an opportunity to be more efficient with existing space and tax money.

School capacity and enrollment data are moving targets they control.

I did a study on enrollment and capacity in the mid-80's of all high schools in Columbia, SC going back 12 years.

What I found was that every single year the enrollment declined, so did the stated school capacity. That happened in every high school except one, which was the farthest school in the east of the county where there was growth.

My high school had between 1,800 to 1,600 students at the time I went there and was added onto during that same time with many classrooms, a theater and art department. By the mid-80's, the stated school capacity had dropped to 1,100 with a little under 900 students enrolled.

My school and others didn't shrink, but it goes to show how numbers can be manipulated to suit the need. Not that it's illegal, but you see the point.

There is no question some schools are overcrowded and relief needs to happen, but as we've seen from CMS before, they will build schools to placate a crowd or in the wrong place(s) By the time they get around to building a school based on projections, the economy changes and/or populations shift.

So as we build schools, we also need to close some and better utilize existing space based on needs/facts and not by a diversity driven mantra. If we need to build schools in the north and south of the county and close some schools in the inner city, so be it.

But untill we get people in power with that mindset, vote no on bonds and against those politicians who support the status quo....

Anonymous said...

Do the Charter schools teach basic personal finance and economics so they know money needs to be earned?

Anonymous said...

Ashley does it make sense to build a school if you cannot hire a quality teacher? CMS has had the money to build schools since 2007 and has not. Enrollment is not growing what CMS is dealing with is less schools. That was their choice with possibly some county influence. In closing I can sum it up only one way very very poor management.

Anonymous said...

I took my kids out of CMS last year and I'm now paying "double", paying tuition and paying my CMS taxes but no longer using the services. We couldn't be happier. You're welcome.

Anonymous said...

My kids have attended charter schools for over 4 years now. Every school has good and bad, but I can tell you I have never had a VP stand in front of a room full of parents and state we don't know these kids we only know the bad ones. That is what we got from CMS when my daughter got student of the month. My kids are in Lake Norman Charter and Cabarrus Charter Academy. We are thrilled with both schools. We will move our son in 5th grade to LNC since it is better established and closer to our home, but CCA is still a great place to be. Charters have parents that care and that helps the teachers and admin make a better school. Charters are not for everyone, but for my kids it is the right choice.

Anonymous said...

Yes, for some families, Langtree has been an improvement over their other school options. For other families,it has not. Our recommendation is to evaluate the school and review facts before deciding the best path for your children and your family. You can find people with great hearts, at any school. :-) At Langtree, the average class size is larger than public schools; each classroom size is small and many do not have any windows. Parents are not allowed to have lunch with students, unless they volunteer to work. Teachers/students attend for longer hours than at Public schools. Teachers have less Teaching Assistants - partly from state cuts (thank you politicians!), but also because the school is managed by a for-profit organization. There will not be a gym for at least 2+ years - regardless of what parent fundraisers are held. Gym, will be held in open classrooms during inclement weather, until they fill up - and then other plans will have to be made. The Charter school teaches the exact SAME curriculum as the public schools. Communication is a challenge at all levels, including from corporate Charter Schools USA. There has been no communication from school board, nor is there any way to contact them. It has been difficult for some parents to know what is going on in classrooms, assignments, grades, etc. - partly because of PowerSchool, but also because corporate doesn't allow for Langtree to publish info on web, so teachers have to find their own work arounds if they want to leverage technology. Parents are asked to volunteer in operational roles predominantly (as opposed to those with educational aspects). Yes, there has already been turnover in teachers, staff, and with families leaving Langtree - there doesn't appear to be any sort of exit-interview process; some received electronic surveys - but links don't work, so may be a challenge to truly understand why folks have left....but should be noted. Parents have voiced concerns and yes, they will be working out the kinks - but it just may take a few years before they are running smoothly, despite having an experienced corporation running the school. Again - I would just encourage you to evaluate facts/statistics, and of course, encourage Ann to continue to blog/write about the charter schools. By discussing details of our education systems, we can all understand, contribute, and support the improving of education in NC. Charter schools aren't bad - healthy competition is good - but we also need to ensure that there is a transparency with all.

Anonymous said...

I am glad you did a study of capacity schools in Columbia, SC in the mid 80s, good for you. Yes I know that some schools have low utilization numbers, but that doesn't still doesn't stop the need for replacement schools and overcrowding at other schools. As far as the drop in capacity of schools, is it such a bad thing to have labs, assembly space, band rooms, etc.. no ..

Yes we have spent the past 6 years without the previous bond money being used, you can thank the county for that, and many of those items on that bond are still needed, just like items on the new bond are needed.

Anon 6:19 You are incorrect. CMS enrollment is still growing and it is the county that controls when CMS can use the bond money, so you can complain to your county rep about the delay in bonds being used. Also, CMS is under new leadership since the bonds were issued in 2007
Ashley Holmes

Wiley Coyote said...


New leadership in CMS means nothing. Morrison is no different than any other educrat managing a public school system.

W've had "new leadership" how many times since 2000 and every single one touts how they are/have closed the achievement gap!

Yes we can and should thank the County. God forbid CMS have taxing authority to go with their inability to plan.

You totally missed the point of my posting the school capacity study...

Anonymous said...


I understood the point you were trying to make just fine. However I was making a counterpoint to how the capacity numbers can change too. Also, along those same lines, if they cap the number of students per classroom, that will change capacity as well.

We all know you have complete and total disdain for CMS, but hopefully you will eventually realize that some schools need major work done to them.

Wiley Coyote said...


My distain is for the bureucracy and political correctness that has stymied public education for decades, not CMS itself.

Thank you for agreeing that CMS and other LEAS use capacity and enrollment numbers to tell a story they want to tell.

Also, along those same lines, if they cap the number of students per classroom, that will change capacity as well.

Anonymous said...

I agree! We pulled out too! Our teacher was great...i will leave it at that!

Anonymous said...

Our situation wasn't what you have referred to above. The school has issues that people aren't aware of. Trust me....we are an example.

Anonymous said...

The state is not overseeing charter schools like they do public schools. I know charter schools are public but they rarest held accountable. Of course they want parent volunteers bc that's one way they save $$!

Anonymous said...

We left LCA 4 months in....Our link for exit didn't work either! Imagine that?

Anonymous said...

I'm curious: Four comments in the last half hour on a six-month-old post is unusual. What's going on? Someone must have shared a link somewhere.

Anonymous said...

Do you think it would be possible for you to do a follow up story at the conclusion of this school year regarding the enrollment and withdrawal numbers at both Langtree and Cabarrus Charter Academy. I have noticed that they are very proud to discuss the wait lists, could you find out the withdrawal numbers. I think it would be really interesting to compare teacher turnover between the local school systems with each of these charters. Also, while Cabarrus charter has kept quiet on the matter, their founding principal, Rebecca McCall is no longer employed at the school. Is this common to see principals exit without any announcement?