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January 18, 2021

State Board of Education discusses Faith Academy, East Spencer charter school

By Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The fate of Rowan County’s only charter school and the future of a charter hopeful will have to wait until January after the N.C. Board of Education only discussed them on Wednesday.

Faith Academy is seeking a charter while Essie Mae Kiser Foxx, located in East Spencer, is facing possible revocation. The academy received unanimous approval from the Charter School Advisory Board to advance a recommendation to the state to grant a charter. The advisory board unanimously voted to revoke the charter of Essie Mae in November.

The main argument for revoking Essie Mae’s charter is the failure to file audit reports with the state since the school opened in 2018. Charter School Advisory Board Chair Alex Quigley told the State Board of Education not completing required annual audits means the state has no way to evaluate the school’s financial standing.

“We feel that Essie Mae Kiser Foxx has, essentially, violated one of the core requirements of operating a charter school in order to remain in operation,” Quigley said.

Quigley said the audit is how the state ensures charters are meeting financial and general operation requirements.

“I think we need to be very clear, if you do not do these basic things, this is the floor and not the ceiling,” Quigley said.

After the advisory board made the decision last month, the Essie Mae board took on legal counsel, saying it intends to appeal a decision to revoke the charter as well as hire a new accountant to complete the audits. If Essie Mae appeals, it could be months before a final decision is made.

Faith Academy on Wednesday was part of a discussion including three other charter hopefuls — two of which were also approved unanimously by the advisory board and another which was opposed.

The academy has been in the works for more than a year. The idea for the charter’s creation arose after the Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education in 2019 discussed closing Faith and Enochville Elementary schools. This year, the board followed through on previous discussions and voted to close both.

A major point of discussion when the Charter School Advisory board approved Faith Academy in October and during a previous interview in September was the fate of Faith Elementary School.

Quigley was questioned about Faith Academy opening in response to the closure of another school, which would indicate the student population is shrinking. Quigley responded saying the intention of the school as laid out in the application is to draw from surrounding counties and not just RSS.

The school is hoping to open in 2021 with about 500 students, more than attend Faith Elementary School, but the academy also plans to serve grades K-7.

The number of students in RSS has been declining for about a decade, but part of the decline is attributed to statewide shift away from public school districts with more students enrolling in charter schools and the steady rise of homeschooling since legislative changes in the ’80s.

Quigley said the Faith board has strong community connections and the Charter School Advisory Board felt satisfied in the interview they would be able to be “pretty ambitious in enrollment projections.”

Faith Academy’s board is made up of a number of former educators, including former RSS administrator Sarah Hensley and former RSS operations head Gene Miller. The chair of the board is former Rowan County Sheriff George Wilhelm.

The next meeting of the State Board of Education will be held on Jan. 6 and 7.

Editor’s note: This article was updated Dec. 8 at 2:55 p.m. to clarify that the State Board of Education only talked about the charter schools. They did not make a decision to delay the application or revocation.

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