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Public Schools competing with non-traditional schools for students

Bladen County SchoolsBy: Erin Smith

North Carolina’s public school system is feeling strong competition for students from Charter Schools and private schools. Bladen County Schools are no different with the opening of Emereau:Bladen Charter School in August. According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Charter Schools are defined as tuition free, independent public schools which are exempt from many of the rules and regulations that apply to traditional public schools. The Charter School is held accountable for their students’ academic growth and achievement through the State assessment system.

Bladen County also has a military charter school in the form of the Paul R. Brown Leadership Academy. When asked about the challenges of competing interests for students in the county, Bladen County Schools Superintendent Dr. Robert Taylor said, “The only thing we can do is continue to put good quality programs in front of people.”

For example, Dr. Taylor said the district offers a strong staff development program for its teachers and staff. Polly Hancock, who will play a pivotal role at Emereau:Bladen, is retiring from Bladen County Schools.

Even with the competition for students, Dr. Taylor said Bladen County Schools are doing well. “We continue doing great things,” said Dr. Taylor of the school system’s accomplishments. The district is No. 1 in the number of students achieving CTE credentials and the district was recognized for achieving the Top 10 percent in the state in lowering violence in schools. In June, 19 high school seniors will graduate with both their associate degrees and high school diploma, said Taylor.

When asked about curriculum, Dr. Taylor said Charter Schools can teach the curriculum they like. The NC DPI website said Charter Schools have autonomy in choosing the programming they wish to offer.   “They have to meet the same assessment standards (as the public schools). They can teach whatever curriculum they want but they have to be careful not to teach a curriculum that is not covered on the standardized tests,” said Dr. Taylor.

It is a myth that public schools can only teach one curriculum. Dr. Taylor also said the public school systems, like charter schools, can also select from various curriculums when deciding what courses to offer. He said when choosing a curriculum to offer, the public school system or the charter school has to determine what curriculum best aligns to the state standards and meets the students’ academic abilities. For example, Dr. Taylor said Bladen County Schools has recently changed the math curriculum to New York Engaged (Eureka) Math as it better aligned to the Common Core Standard required by the state.

“Nothing out there really aligned well to our standards,” said Dr. Taylor of the decision to change the math curriculum.

Non-public schools are allowed to utilize whatever curriculum they wish but they are also accountable for student growth and achievement through the State assessment process. Teachers in non-public (private) school settings are not required to be certified; however, each school establishes its own policies with regards to teacher certification and licensure, according to the North Carolina Administration website.

One glaring difference between Charter Schools and Public Schools in North Carolina are the requirements for teachers. “Their teachers don’t have to meet same standards we do. All of our teachers have to be certified. They only have to have about 50 percent of their teachers certified,” said Dr. Taylor.

According to NC DPI’s website, Charter School employees are not considered employees of the state but instead are contract employees of the Charter School’s Board of Directors. As such, employees of the State’s public school system cannot transfer leave to or from a Charter School; however, the board of directors can choose to honor an employee’s accrued leave from their former public school.

The Paul R. Brown Leadership Academy states on its website their teachers must meet all of the state requirements for certification and licensure.

BladenOnline.com has reached out via email and telephone to our area Charter Schools for more information regarding how they select curriculum and what their individual policies are regarding hiring personnel. When they submit their responses, we will provide an update.

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