Orange County charter school wins approval, but all-boys academy in Charlotte is nixed

State leaders have approved a new charter school for Orange County but rejected an all-boys charter school in Mecklenburg County.

On Monday, the N.C. Charter Schools Review Board approved Carolina Achieve to open in 2025 in Orange County. But the Review Board also rejected the proposed Myrtis Simpson Walker Academy for Boys in Charlotte, citing concerns about the school’s ability to attract enough boys.

Review Board members said they wanted to avoid a repeat of what happened to the School of the Arts for Boys Academy (SABA), an all-boys charter school that opened in August in Chatham County. Due to lack of enrollment, the state has ordered SABA to close by Dec. 31.

“We just had in front of us an all-boys school with a very specific academic focus that we had to close down because they couldn’t get their enrollment,” said Bruce Friend, chair of the Review Board. “And that should in one respect not impact this application in any way. Different school, different focus, different part of the state.

“But nevertheless, I’d be lying If we didn’t say we heard every step along the way, ‘yep the students are coming, the students are coming, the students are coming’ and they just never came.”

Plea for approving a boys-only charter school

Cynthia Johnson, the chair of the board for Myrtis Simpson Walker, made an impassioned plea for an all-boys school in honor of her grandmother. Myrtis Simpson Walker taught for 25 years in the Escambia County School District of Pensacola, Florida.

Johnson, a school counselor, said there’s a critical need for a school to help male students, especially those who didn’t have the same parental experiences as other children.

“I wanted more for the young men in our community,” Johnson said. “I want to see them succeed. I wanted to see them be the best and be pillars of the community.”

The school proposed a focus on entrepreneurship and teaching music skills.

The school planned to open in Charlotte in 2025 with 300 elementary school students. It would eventually expand to 500 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Review Board members said they want single-gender schools to succeed but that there needs to be a strong plan in place for that to happen. Single-gender public schools are rare.

“I do have concerns about the ability to reach the desired enrollment, the necessary enrollment, said Rita Haire, a Review Board member.

Myrtis Simpson can appeal the Review Board’s rejection to the State Board of Education.

New charter schools in Orange, Guilford counties

Two other new charter schools had more success on Monday.

The Review Board approved Liberty Charter Academy in Guilford County and Carolina Achieve in Orange County. Both schools will need to go back to the board for final approval before opening in 2025.

Carolina Achieve plans to open initially with 400 elementary school students. It eventually wants to expand to 900 students in kindergarten through eighth-grade.

School leaders have pointed to low test scores in Orange and Durham counties and how more than 7,500 students are on waiting lists to get into charter schools in Durham. There are 1,800 students on waiting lists for charter schools in Orange County.

Carolina Achieve had planned to locate on Lawrence Road near Hillsborough beside another new charter school: Western Triangle High. But the Orange County Board of Commissioners voted in June to deny a rezoning request for the property, The News & Observer previously reported.

The school is now looking for another location in Orange County near the Durham County line.

“The good hews is there is a variety of solutions that will work,” John Oxaal, chair of Carolina Achieve’s board, told the Review Board. “I”m confident of that.”

Carolina Achieve says that it will teach entrepreneurial skills and the habits of success, which include teamwork and accountability; critical and creative thinking; and empathy.

Carolina Achieve’s initial board of directors includes Thomas Nechyba, a Duke University professor who has written extensively about the impact of school choice on neighborhoods.

“Given my view that one of the members should have the Nobel Prize, I am enthusiastic about the board they’ve put together,” said Bartley Danielsen, a Review Board member.