COLUMBUS COUNTY, NC (WECT) – Two charter schools opening next week in Columbus County are appealing to different ages and types of students, but they have at least one thing in common – they're impacting traditional public schools.
This year, the school is expected to educate approximately 40 of the Boys and Girls Homes residents as well as 20 middle and high school students from Columbus and surrounding counties.
"Surprising enough, and maybe not so surprising, we have some A-B honor-roll students that are coming from the larger high schools that just want a small-school setting, that wanted that one-on-one attention," said Tom Simmons, headmaster of Flemington Academy.
Simmons' works at Boys and Girls Homes is a homecoming of sorts. He ran away from home in fifth grade and lived on the streets until he was taken to the Lake Waccamaw facility.
He hopes his story will inspire the students.
"I like for them to know that I've walked in their shoes and I understand their feeling," he said. "I understand where they're coming from because I am one of them."
Administrators at Flemington Academy plan to increase enrollment by 20 percent each year until they reach their cap of 120 students.
SEGS Academy in Delco is the other charter school opening in Columbus County.
Administrators there are expecting 100 children in Kindergarten through sixth grade.
The school, which will focus on science and technology, has faced a rough start.
Building issues led to a two-week delay, which was approved earlier this summer by the NC Department of Public Instruction.
Less than one week before it plans to open, the school does not have a certificate of occupancy, according to Waties Greene of the Columbus County Building Inspections Office.
Without the certificate, the school cannot hold classes or receive state funds.
Charter schools receive state funding that follows their students.
This year, parents choosing charters are expected to cost Columbus County Schools almost $400 thousand and more than 10 teachers.
Alan Faulk, superintendent of Columbus County Schools, says dropping enrollments could lead his system to make tough decisions.
"It would be very difficult if the trend continues to operate some of the smaller schools that we have," said Faulk. "Some of our schools' populations now are down to around 180 kids, and it's really hard to have a full staff when you have a population in a school of 180."
Despite enrollment drops, Faulk believes charters have made his schools stronger and more competitive.
Williams Township Elementary School even ran a half-page newspaper ad that included a list of the "Top 10 Reasons for Enrolling your Child at WTS."
Last year, 346 students who live in the Columbus County Schools district attended Columbus Charter School near Whiteville.
Since its founding in 2007, the K-8 school's enrollment has grown to 835 students, according to Headmaster Steve Smith.
"The parents enjoy the school because it kind of gives them a private school feel, and because we are a public school, there's no tuition to them," said Headmaster Steve Smith.
Some believe the competition for students is not on an even playing field since charter schools are not required to offer free transportation and lunches.
Flemington Academy will offer hot lunches. It will provide transportation only in rare circumstances, according to Simmons.
SEGS Academy plans to offer transportation and meals, according to Principal Renee Miles.
Columbus Charter provides neither, according to Smith.
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