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September 26, 2020

Faith charter school application gets continued after state board interview

By Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

RALEIGH — Faith Academy, a would-be charter school, was neither granted a charter nor shot down after a Monday morning interview with the Charter School Advisory Board.

The state board opted to bring the people representing the Faith charter institution back next month for another interview to present more information on the school, with an emphasis on the “compelling need” for the school’s creation.

The board generally cited a strong application for the charter, though CSAB chair Alex Quigley disagreed, saying he did not think the application was strong and added the concern about a compelling need beyond the possible closure of Faith Elementary School.

Faith Academy Board Chair and former Rowan County Sheriff George Wilhelm said the board wanted the approval of a charter, but was hoping for at least the continuance. If the application was denied, the board would have to come back next year.

“We still feel good about it,” Wilhelm said.

The academy board has been working with Charter Success Partners, a Wake Forest-based company that advises prospective and active charter schools.

The questioning on Monday spent ample time on the issue of Faith Elementary, which is up for possible closure. The Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education will consider scheduling and holding public hearings for the closure of Faith and Enochville elementary schools during its next meeting on Sept. 28.

The schools are on the chopping block for RSS due to poor scores on a chart the district created for assessing schools on a basis of capital needs, capacity, utilization and utility cost. The district would save, conservatively, $500,000 per year for each facility it closes, and it has a surplus of about 5,000 seats. The RSS board would need to hold a public hearing and vote to close the school before the decision becomes final. The CSAB said it’s interested in the decisions RSS will make this month.

Faith Elementary has been up for closure before, with the board backing out after the public hearing. Wilhelm said the academy board believes the district will move ahead with the closure plans this time.

N.C. Officer of Charter Schools Director Dave Machado told the Post closure of a nearby school could constitute a compelling need if there is not another public school in the area, and it is normal for an interview to be continued to another meeting.

The plans for Faith Academy include a piece of land on Gantt Street in the small town where the academy would build. Wilhelm said the school would bring in mobile units as temporary accommodations for the 2021-2022 school year only.

RSS retiree Sarah Hensley has been tapped as a tentative administrator for the school. Hensley ended her career as director of elementary education for RSS after 39 years in education. Wilhelm said there are others interested in coming to work for the school as well.

Wilhelm said the school has secured the private funding it will need for the first year, though there have been challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic because the academy has not been able to promote itself, except through social media. However, it was able to hold a public interest meeting in March.

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