Academic journal article High School Journal

Meeting an Extraordinary Challenge with Ordinary Resources: The Case of One Charter School

Academic journal article High School Journal

Meeting an Extraordinary Challenge with Ordinary Resources: The Case of One Charter School

Article excerpt

There is a national non-profit organization dedicated to serving the needs of low-income children. It raises funds to provide programs that are implemented though the schools. The organization has programs in 26 North Carolina counties, with five in the County X. When the opportunity arose to start a charter school, the non-profit organization seized the chance to expand its mission. County X, as one of the poorest in the state, was an obvious choice of locations.

The organization's charter school was designed for at-risk students in grades 6-8. The term "at-risk" refers to slow or inadequate learning in the regular classroom, not the type of misbehavior that would lead to suspension or expulsion from school. The school's application stressed four basic principles:

* A one-to-one relationship with a caring adult

* A safe place to learn

* A marketable skill

* To give back to the community.

As its promotional brochure states, the school's "vision is to provide students at-risk of school failure with the academic, social, and individual skills necessary to successfully learn, stay in school, and graduate from the public schools...."

This is clearly an extraordinary vision. The challenge of bringing any single student up to grade level in three years or less after a long history of school failure is daunting to any experienced educator. To do it for an entire school would be a special kind of achievement. To be successful, the school would have to overcome extraordinary odds.

To achieve such extraordinary goals, a charter school would have to have

* extraordinary cooperation from the school system,

* extraordinary leadership,

* extraordinary resources,

* extraordinary teachers, and

* an extraordinary curriculum.

Each of those areas will be addressed below.


Unlike the case of many charter schools, the County X school system responded very favorably to the charter school proposal. As a result, the organization and the school system have cooperated in several ways to make the charter school successful.

The reasons for that cooperation are instructive. First was the recognition, by all the parties involved, that the educational needs of many County X children were not being met under existing programs. The percentage of non-readers was too high, as was the drop out rate, the rate of adolescent pregnancy, and the amount of teenage criminal activity. It was clear that something had to be done before students reached the minimum drop out age of 16. A charter school made sense because it was a different approach. As one of the organization leaders said to the superintendent, "You can't do what we can do!"

A second reason for the cooperative attitudes related to economic development in County X. The county's poor educational reputation discouraged new businesses from moving to the area, both because employees did not want to move to a place where the schools were bad, and because the county's residents did not have the education required to perform effectively in the workplace. The county's leaders recognized the need for immediate changes.

A possible third reason for the school system's cooperation, which went unsaid in the interviews, was that end-of-grade test scores would rise in the schools that had its low-achieving students transfer to the charter school. Most school employees are usually happy to send their weaker students elsewhere, so that tendency may have promoted cooperation. Although the current Board Chair spoke against the idea of the charter school serving as a "dumping ground", it may have been perceived that way at first, thus promoting cooperation.

Fourth, as the former Board Chair indicated, "There was no competition." The at-risk students were not valued commodities like the affluent, successful students that may be attracted, away from the local school systems. …

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