Monday, March 17, 2014

Network helps with charter start-ups

When Lauren Tucker read about start-up problems at a nearby charter school,  she says she was especially thankful for her network.

Tucker is director of Aristotle Preparatory School,  a charter that opened in August on the outskirts of uptown Charlotte.  It's one of 14 schools that make up TeamCFA,  a network created by the Colorado-based Challenge Foundation.

Aristotle Prep
As charters expand in our area,  I'm getting a crash course in the organizations that are shaping them.  There are nonprofit charter chains like KIPP,  which has a school in Charlotte,  and for-profit management companies like Charter Schools USA,  which opened Langtree and Cabarrus academies this year.  Then there are charter networks such as TeamCFA and Prestige Preparatory Schools,  which provide support to area charters while those schools maintain independent identities.

TeamCFA has schools in Phoenix, Indianapolis and western North Carolina  (Aristotle Prep is the easternmost school in that group) and is working to expand.  Tucker was a math teacher at Piedmont Community Charter School,  a network school in Gastonia,  and the network trained her to launch a new school.

Tucker says the network has provided support with everything from governance to getting the building ready to creating a web site.  The Challenge Foundation also provides $100,000 grants for the first three years to help with starting expenses. The network has some requirements for all schools:  Students wear uniforms,  and all schools teach the Core Knowledge curriculum and use MAP testing to size up student progress.

Aristotle currently has almost 100 K-3 students in converted Sunday school classrooms at Christ Presbyterian Church.  "Support in the network is vital,"  says Tucker.

Individual schools have different specialties.  Piedmont has a fine-arts focus,  while Brevard Academy is breaking out grammar and Latin classes to improve writing,  says Tony Helton,  southeastern regional director for TeamCFA.

I don't claim to fully understand what chains and networks will mean for charter education in our area.  The liberal-leaning N.C. Policy Watch,  for instance,  has raised questions about the conservative political affiliations of Challenge Foundation founder John Bryan.  But as new schools continue to open,  affiliations such as Aristotle's with TeamCFA will help provide families some guidance in what to expect  --  and examples to check out nearby.


Ettolrahc said...

The nice thing about professional help for Charters is that they can help a lot.

That way we might not have to read stories about Charters in the observer which contain descriptions like this:

The view from Invest Collegiate can be bleak. Located on 10 acres between the Charlotte School of Law and Bryant Park in the Wesley Heights neighborhood, the two six-classroom units look out on the back of WBTV studios, with chain-link fences topped by coils of barbed wire. A morning downpour sent water under the doors, leaving the carpet wet at the entrance.

Yes direct from a story in the observer. I wonder if they care to describe the views at CMS to us.

But I guess since CMS students are not paying attention, the view must be important.

Anonymous said...

Et, did you stop reading before the point of that description? "Like other charters, Invest Collegiate is opening in temporary facilities. ... While county commissioners provide construction money for CMS, charters must pay for their own facilities, raising donations or pulling from the operating money they get from the government."

Shamash said...

I've always been a big proponent of church-state separation myself.

From my earlier days, this was the main reason I supported public schools over private schools (and vouchers).

The churches get enough tax-free benefits as it is. I see no need to feed that kitty more.

So reading the NC Policy Watch article about the Challenge Foundation does concern me.

And I'm glad someone is keeping an eye on them and letting people know what they're about.

But here's where I also have a problem.

Who is preventing the same thing from happening in the public schools?

Especially when there are "child evangelism" groups such as the "Good News" clubs in many of our public schools?

Of course, I don't want to see ANY of our publicly funded schools taken over by religious organizations (especially foreign organizations like the Gulenists), because that is not what public schools are for.

We have private schools for that.

But it seems to me that these church-state separation problems are not unique to Charter schools.

Where's the outrage over that?

From what I see now, the federal government is moving public education in a direction which is just as politically extreme as what I see with the Charter (and Private) schools.

Who's holding the public schools accountable?

And not only for far right ideology, but for far left ideology (from the feds) as well?

It's no surprise to see people pulling just as hard in the other direction.

Meanwhile, who's out there actually promoting teaching kids the non-ideological things they need to know?

Unknown said...


In the education funding legislation there is a provision that any charter may lease for $1 a year any building a school district isn't using.

When I first saw the line in the law I asked CMS to confirm it. Yes!

I doubt that any big school district would let that happen. However, out in the sticks there are many school and administration building sitting vacant because of budget problems.

Bolyn McClung

Ettolrahc said...

Oh I see your point. We need to describe the view from CMS schools and Charters so they can help the parents not bother to go visit those which have bad views or a leak at front door, even if they have a scintilla of interest.

Nothing wrong with that at all.

And I am still trying to find the story you did on Charter Schools USA a while back? Can you cite that one for us so we can see it again.


Ettolrahc said...

I noticed you mentioned they supposedly use operating funds for buildings and the like.

Can I get more information on that who does it. That would be interesting.

Also, did you know that Charters could move into empty school buildings but for some reason the systems always have some small thing working out of those buildings so they do not get taken into being used for education.

Anonymous said...

I would like to see more stories about Charter Schools USA, are they providing a differentiated edcuation? These schools are owned and operated by one individual who has used his strong politcal ties to create his education empire. Jonathon Hage is worth millions thanks to the charter school legislation that he wrote while working for Gov. Jeb Bush in Florida during the mid 90's. People like Hage and Baker Mitchell(here in NC) are part of why I am so skeptical/concerned about Charter schools. There is almost no accountability and when money is concerned, that is a very bad thing. Baker Mitchell is actually on the NC state board of charter schools, and even though he is curently under Federal investigation for financial impropriety, he was given permission to open more charter schools in NC. Really?

Wiley Coyote said...

Shamash, Bolyn..

Public school systems, aided by government, have been wasting billions of dollars every year for decades and the practice is still going on....

Interesting how we can close schools to save money, then have 74% of the electorate vote to build more, while CMS reopens those schools that were closed.

Perhaps to keep charters from using them?

Ettolrahc said...

I too want to know more and see more about Charter Schools.

So a new writer at the observer giving folks what they pay for and want would not be a bad idea.

That way the two of them could cover both the Charters and CMS with the coverage we deserve on both these assets to to community.

Great idea, on us getting the real facts on all schools.

Unknown said...



Fair comment about if CMS intentionally reopened schools to deny charters. However doesn't apply in this case.

Last August I just happened on the line in the law about leasing empty buildings. I was actually looking for language for guns on campuses.

I asked a number of people in the legal and construction sides of CMS if they knew anything about the leases. They didn't.

I disclosed this information to the board chair of a very big Mecklenburg charter. The person was surprised...very surprised.

What is interesting is that because of the push for STEM/STEAM, the reopening of schools had been well underway before the law was written.

Now Amy James may be different.

I expect to see this to become a successful program. Years ago Thomas Jefferson Classical Charter in Forrest City bought an old three story public school building for $1.

Bolyn McClung

Shamash said...


Could be. Nothing much surprises me anymore when it comes to government waste.

I googled a couple examples of old schools just being left to rot around the country. I'm sure they could be put to some use.

And, of course, there are also some of those sweetheart deals building new schools I've posted before (Gulenist schools built exclusively by Turkish-run contractors and suppliers in Texas).

So, yeah, no surprises.

There is also waste in general with government RENTAL of office space, too, when they own perfectly reasonable buildings.

Sometimes I forget that part of the problem with public schools is that they're part of our GOVERNMENT and subject to whatever whims rule the day.

Anonymous said...

Et, we may have found one point where you and I are in complete agreement. I'd LOVE to get a second reporter back on the beat -- heck, when we had two, I was notorious for trying to annex even more people into education coverage.

As for "giving folks what they pay for," a lot of people who comment take pride in not paying for a print or online subscription. So if you're paying nothing, I can promise that I'll single-handedly deliver at least your money's worth :-)

Shamash said...


Well, from the number of people who post here and say they're teachers, maybe you have a few "moles" who could help.

Seems that someone would be willing to go to their own school meetings with a recorder.

Especially if the schools were having problems.

I know I've been to a few, and while they're typically almost as interesting as HOA meetings, they can be eye-openers.

Even at good schools.

About the only interesting thing I've learned from any school meetings, though, over the past few years is that some morons at our school didn't know how to make the PTO tax exempt.

So the IRS was on them for back taxes.

Not exactly confidence-inspiring when your fund-raisers go to pay your back taxes.

That's the problem with amateur-run organizations and probably a few Charters as well.

They just don't know the business side of business.

Much like why so many independent small businesses fail and why franchises are so popular.

Anonymous said...

please don't make the assumption that just because you feel CMS is not a very good public school system, that all public schools are bad. I see this as a common theme for many of the posters on this blog, especially those who promote charter schools. I know there are those who think Charters are the best option for their families and I respect their view. However, I have been very pleased with the education that both of my children are receiving in the Kannapolis City School System. Again, I am sure there are those who would disagree,but for my family, the proof is in the pudding so to speak, my chidlren are doing exceptionally well in KCS, we couldn't be happier. I imagine there are many in Cabarrus County and Mooresville who feel the same way as I do, regarding the their local school system.

Shamash said...

Anon 11:12.

It may be that CMS is just too big for its own good (from what I can tell).

If it was broken into manageable sizes it might give us one or two good districts and at least as many bad districts.

I agree that there appear to be some fairly well run school systems in the area.

Fort Mill comes to mind as one, best I can tell.

Some would have said Union County until, perhaps, recently.

I think it's just as good to hear about the real successes as the failures in public (including magnets and charter) and private schools.

But failure makes news.

One of the hardest things to find as a parent is honest, trustworthy evaluations of schools.

(Believe me, I've been looking at a lot of that lately in a lot of locations)

Anonymous said...

I would agree with this statement in a previous post. "One of the hardest things to find as a parent is honest, trustworthy evaluations of schools."

One issue is that parents may have such different expectations or perceptions of what constitutes a good school.

Ettolrahc said...

I have to pay and understand that to get on the observer website folks have to pay.

So we do not have to pay after all?

Oh who am I kidding, it is worth it just to keep making you and your supporters of CMS mad.

Ettolrahc said...

Yes Smash,

CMS is a great example of just what you can do with unlimited resources and man power.

Anonymous said...

I figured you like Catholic schools. They are consistent and stay the course. They don't change because of every new study or trend. They focus on fundamentals. Grammar and spelling are still important. If your a behavior issue, your gone.

Anonymous said...

CMS is way to big.

Shamash said...

It's not just that CMS is too big (though that is a problem).

It's their Robin Hood mentality that I don't like.

And it's always, either pay another $10000 per kid per year for "school" (which actually means "social services") or pay $30000 per year for prison later.

But that's a false choice. Most of those kids are NOT headed for prison.

Just the really bad ones who lack self-discipline.

Charters can probably help "save" a few at lower costs provided they have good support and are watched carefully.

Because it's still public money and some people just know how to get more than they really need or deserve.

Ettolrahc said...

Below are the stories so far this month on education and the comments they generated.

Network helps with charter start-ups 21 Five were mine

Discipline disparities: A national push 79 Four were mine.

CMS survey shows enthusiasm for technology 28 Four were mine.

Commissioner irked at paying charter debt 64 Seven were mine.

Tenure resolution on CMS board agenda 24 Zero comments on this

Irwin mom: This isn't good enough 74 Two were mine

CMS high school teachers hosed on ratings? 40 Zero were mine.

Project LIFT site: Hello flash, goodbye substance 50 Zero were mine.

Check enrollment at CMS schools 36 Zero were mine.

Tales from another era of education 17 Zero were mine.

Dr. Seuss as education agitator 1 Zero were mine.

Who's to blame for CMS data delay? 20 Zero were mine

March snow and spring break 35 Zero were mine.

If I were Data Mining this, I would most likely say that appealing to Teachers gets good response. But what really gets a good cross section is three things.

The way money is spent on education, the value it brings and the very system working in a safe and secure manner.

As a person who covers education I would be writing the majority of my stories on these three items over and over to help my organization and of course the public who is thirsting for information just on these items.

But if the Charter Schools and Raleigh are more important then so be it.