Monthly Archives

April 2024

Alex Quigley Perspective: For Charters, ‘Slow and Steady Wins the Race’

By News
Alex Quigley, a member of the Charter Schools Review Board and the executive director of Durham Charter School, has a new EdNC editorial out on the charter authorization process. Alex co-authored the article with David Griffith of the Fordham Institute. You may recall that Fordham recently released a report evaluating North Carolina’s charter authorization decisions and later charter school outcomes. Read more about that report in an earlier Coalition blog post.

Alex Quigley is the executive director of Durham Charter School and a member of the Charter Schools Review Board. Photo credit: Alex Quigley.

Here’s an excerpt from Alex’s piece:

North Carolina’s charter school movement is at a crossroads.

The recent passage of House Bill 618 gave the newly constituted Charter School Review Board (CSRB), the state’s only charter school “authorizer,” the authority to create new schools without the approval of the State Board of Education — a move that could lead to even more new schools in the years to come.

Now, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has released a study that looked at the old CSRB’s track record between 2011 (when North Carolina’s charter school cap was lifted) and 2019 (when the COVID-19 pandemic struck) in an effort to understand how the authorization process that defined the last era of charter school growth might be improved.

The evidence

As the study notes, research from other states suggests that charters tend to improve over time, and that some low-performing schools are likely to close. Consequently, it’s hard to draw firm conclusions [about] potential based on initial performance.

Fortunately, because North Carolina does an unusually good job of tracking school performance — despite the disruption associated with the pandemic — it’s possible to see how the performance of recently established charter schools has changed over time.

See our Summer 2023 Q&A with Alex.

Read the rest of the article on EdNC.

Bladen Journal Spotlights Charter School Mentors

By News

The Bladen Journal has just published an inspiring story of mentorship and its impacts on Paul R. Brown Leadership Academy, located in Elizabethtown. The state’s only military public charter school, PRBLA had a difficult start and spent years as a low-performing school. Eventually, PRBLA brought in Chico Caldwell and his wife, Bertha, to serve as mentors and help turn the school around.

Chico and Bertha Caldwell, both longtime educators, serve as mentors at Paul R. Brown Leadership Academy, a public charter school. Photo credit: The Bladen Journal.

A longtime educator with nearly four decades of experience working in higher education, Chico focuses on leadership. (He is also one of the Coalition’s Preferred Vendors.) Bertha is a former teacher, principal, and assistant superintendent with experience working in low-performing schools.

Here’s what Chico told The Bladen Journal about his emphasis on school culture and leadership:

We started with drive and they were all about culture … It’s an all-science base, and when you can change the culture, you can change the game. So, the idea is, when you build a success culture, teaching and learning can be at its best. We are also very aware that it starts with the leadership.

The school also brought in a new leader, hiring Dr. Jason Wray to serve as superintendent. A 20-year U.S. Army veteran, Dr. Wray also served for eight years as the principal of East Bladen High School. (Read more about Dr. Wray’s innovative leadership in this Coalition Q&A).

And here’s what Chico said about Dr. Wray:

The academy then hired Dr. Jason Wray as the superintendent at PRBLA … He had the vision. He bought in and began asking questions about determination and drive and Wray wanted to know exactly what I did when I came to his building. That question just pumped me up because I knew then that he wanted to know how I planned on changing the game … What was amazing about him, was that he took that information and aligned it with the direction he wanted to take the school … We still meet every first and third Tuesday of every month just to talk about alignment.

Read the full article from The Bladen Journal.

NBC News Analyzes Declining Public School Enrollment Nationwide

By News

NBC News has published a 10-year analysis of public school enrollment, showing public schools are losing K-12 market share across the nation. Between 2012-2022, for instance, public school enrollment dropped in every state except Delaware and Rhode Island, with the enrollment downturn occurring despite population growth. NBC ties the shift to the national proliferation of school choice programs and initiatives, including charter schools. However, NBC inaccurately and unfortunately positions charter schools as an “alternative” to “public schools.” In fact, charter schools are public schools. They are not private schools, so they are not part of education “privatization” efforts–and they are open to all students, just like district public schools.

Here are some key takeaways from NBC’s report:

Between 2012-2022, the share of children ages 5-17 attending public schools nationwide declined by nearly 4%, from 90.7% to 87%. Some states, including North Carolina, experienced much larger “public school” enrollment decreases during this 10-year timeframe. Here are the states experiencing the largest declines:

  • Kentucky: -7.73%
  • South Carolina: -7.35%
  • Alaska: -6.88%
  • Mississippi: -6.78%
  • Florida: -6.53%
  • Idaho: -6%
  • West Virginia: -5.75%
  • Montana: -5.72%
  • North Carolina: -5.64%
  • Alabama: -5.6%

North Carolina’s changing K-12 sector

NBC does not report enrollment trends in the one public schooling sector in North Carolina that has grown dramatically: public charter schools. Between 2012-2022, the same timeframe NBC News studied, N.C. public charter enrollment shot up 175%. More recently, between 2019-2022, public charter enrollment in North Carolina increased 19%, as the state’s Office of Charter Schools has noted.

A shift in what parents want in education

The report makes clear what other previous studies have affirmed, which is that parent preferences have changed–with education sectors outside district public schools scooping up K-12 market share, as we have noted before. Notably, however, parents are leaving public schools even in states without a robust school choice environment. For example, Kentucky, which has the largest share in the nation of students exiting public schools, does not provide families with publicly-funded school choice programs. Lawmakers have sought to create such opportunities, but legislation creating a way to fund charter schools was struck down in December; in addition, the state Supreme Court has ruled against education tax credits. Instead, parents are leaving Kentucky public schools for home or private schools, which account for around 15% of the state’s K-12 population, according to a 2022 report from EdChoice Kentucky.

NBC’s map of public school enrollment declines nationwide:

Read the full report on NBC News.


NEAAAT Earns Innovation Honors from the Canopy Project

By Awards
Congratulations to Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies (NEAAAT)! The Elizabeth City public charter school and Coalition member school is one of 10 North Carolina public schools (including three charter schools) recently honored by the Canopy Project for innovation in education. Other honoree schools in North Carolina include lab and district schools.

About the Canopy Project

The Canopy Project is an initiative from the Center on Reinventing Public Education and Transcend Education. The 10 North Carolina schools are among 189 schools nationwide to make Canopy’s 2024 list and to be included in the project’s database.

NEAAAT students at work. Photo credit: Facebook, Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies.

  • Click here to go to Canopy’s searchable database and learn more about NEAAAT’s achievements.
  • View the portal guide.
  • Read more from EdNC or The 74.
Congratulations to NEAAAT CEO Andrew Harris and to the entire NEAAAT school community! We’re proud of you and your achievement.

It’s FASTAR® Championship Week at Classical Charter Schools of America

By News

For Classical Charter Schools of America, it’s FASTAR® Championship Week! FASTAR® is a fun academic competition assessing rapid recall of math and reading skills–with an obvious nod to NASCAR (can’t miss those checkered flags!). According to CCS-A, two of the four North Carolina schools have finished early FASTAR® competition already: CCS-Whiteville and CCS-Wilmington. CCS-Leland competes today, while CCS-Southport launches tomorrow. Competition culminates in next Wednesday’s “Race of Champions.”

Student winners receive trophies after qualifying races are over. Roger Bacon Academy, which partners with CCS-A, developed the clever competition, re-purposing the lingo of NASCAR into new roles for academic pit crews, crew chiefs, timing trials, and more. Watch a CCS-A video about FASTAR® here.

Here’s the update from CCS-A’s newsletter today:

CCS-America students competing in the annual FASTAR® (Fluent Academic Skills Tournament in Arithmetic and Reading) competition will race to the finish line this week, with the Race of Champions scheduled for next Wednesday, April 24th. CCS-Whiteville and CCS-Wilmington checkered-flag champions have completed their preliminaries after two exciting race days filled with close competition!

Congratulations to these Coalition member schools! We share pictures below from Classical Charter Schools-Whiteville and Classical Charter Schools-Wilmington.

Above and immediately below: Students from CCS-Whiteville at FASTAR 2024. Photo credit: Facebook, CCS-Whiteville.

Above and below: Students from CCS-Wilmington at FASTAR 2024. Photo credit: Facebook, CCS-Wilmington.

Q&A with Erica Nielsen, Charter One’s Student Data Expert

By News

An expert on student information systems shares what parents and schools can expect from North Carolina’s conversion to Infinite Campus

Erica Nielsen is the student information systems (SIS) director for Charter One, an education management organization that partners with public charter schools in North Carolina as well as other states. She has extensive experience working with student data, and she currently serves on the steering committee for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s (DPI) Phase One of SIS modernization efforts. 

Kristen Blair, the Coalition’s communications director, spoke with Erica to learn more about what parents and school leaders can expect with North Carolina’s upcoming SIS conversion to Infinite Campus. Conversion is occurring as a result of a state law, which mandates SIS modernization in the state’s public schools. (Read more about that here.) One-third of North Carolina’s public schools launched Phase One implementation in February and will use Infinite Campus for the upcoming 2024-25 school year. All other North Carolina public schools will convert from PowerSchool to Infinite Campus by July 2025.  

It’s great to talk with you! Could you tell us about your background, and how you became involved with student information systems?

Erica Nielsen is the SIS director for Charter One, an education management organization. Photo credit: Erica Nielsen.

Erica Nielsen: It’s all by chance. I worked in hospitality through my first degree, which was a BS in Health Promotion, and I carried two to three jobs for a very long time, one in education at a private school, ending up as the admissions director. I left to complete my master’s in educational leadership, later stumbling on an opportunity to work for an IT firm on CRM (customer relationship management) and Microsoft products, staffing, and software development. That’s when I learned that education is my passion. I stayed on with the IT firm part-time but decided to go back to education.

I looked specifically at American Leadership Academy (ALA). They were bold about leadership being part of their core values and combining this with excellent academics. I interviewed them seven times before I took the position! I eventually ended up on the student information systems team because of my background with software. I already had a lot of experience with data, and in a school setting, too. I ended up leading the department, and that was over 10 years ago. Eventually, we moved into Charter One as a management organization in 2017. We wanted to be able to provide charter school support anywhere—with our mission and vision. So, Charter One came about as a company, and I stayed on. I have been with Charter One this whole time, on the SIS side.

What drew you to the charter sector, specifically?

Nielsen: The biggest thing that stands out to me is the ability to have a choice. I was drawn to ALA specifically because of the leadership component and mission; those are the things that have kept me with the same company.

We don’t choose for families; they get to make the choice for education and we get to partner with them. That’s what has stayed with me all of these years.

What do parents and school leaders need to know as North Carolina prepares for its SIS conversion from PowerSchool to Infinite Campus? What are some of the key benefits and differences Infinite Campus will offer families and schools?


Nielsen: For parents, I’m really excited. I firmly believe Infinite Campus is a far superior system than any other student information system out there. It is more sophisticated with more capabilities, and it has more solutions. No system is perfect; I do recognize that. But in my experience with the different systems we have worked with, this is by far more robust.  What I’m most excited about for parents is that it’s a “one stop shop.” There’s a really easy way to log in to their parent portal. In PowerSchool, parents have to claim their kids and input all of these numbers on each of their kids—and then they can get their family all put together. To me, that’s a lot of work. The transparency that parents get with the parent portal in Infinite Campus is important. Making that streamlined and easier for them is going to give them the resources to be a partner in their student’s education.

A lot of this has to do with the contract DPI created. Infinite Campus has several modules that DPI put into the contract. When parents log in to the parent portal, they have access to grades, attendance, missing assignments—all of what they are used to. In addition, online payments, for example, are part of the contract. Parents can pay fees online through the parent portal as well. It’s almost like an Amazon account. They don’t have to log in to any other system.

The food service module with Infinite Campus is not part of the contract, but if schools implement that, parents can see their kid’s lunch account in the same portal—what they’ve eaten and their balance. They can add money to it. With different plugins over the years, PowerSchool has been able to have solutions, but with Infinite Campus, you don’t have data sync issues. You don’t have multiple vendors for parents to work through.

Schools, teachers, and staff:

On the staff side, DPI has done an incredible job with the contract they’ve created. They’ve included online registration, Messenger, online payments, the LMS (learning management system)—which helps with transferring grades back into the system from options such as Canvas. It really helps teachers and the implementation of academics inside the classroom. The LMS portion of the contract speaks very easily to software such as Canvas. In other states, we’ve had slim to no issues in configuring this for our teachers. With PowerSchool, it has been a really big hurdle. There are going to be some efficiencies in use. The gradebooks are really similar between systems, but there are some better features—it’s ease of access, the views teachers get across the gradebooks. Teachers are definitely going to see an improvement, and I think they will be better equipped.

For the rest of the staff, online registration (OLR) really helps data flow more easily into the system. OLR is a huge component in Infinite Campus that’s going to create a lot of efficiencies. Staff can run transactions at the front desk, parents can pay online—providing ease of use for managing fees and lunch accounts. Messenger is another product in the contract; it’s all real time and it’s all live. When a student comes into the system, there’s no synching that needs to take place. Schools are going to benefit from efficiencies, ease of use, and access to data. I’m excited for staff and what they’ll be able to utilize. It will create a lot of good processes, and it will be faster so schools can take care of the kid in the seat instead of being stuck in administrative processes.

Broadly, what sorts of data does the Department of Public Instruction collect about students, and how are data points used?

 Nielsen: There isn’t anything personal. It’s all statistical data used for growth and performance. Every state has the same goals: How can states better improve their educational systems and track their money? The data they pull is demographic, grade level, and end of year assessments. That’s to identify growth; it’s more about the specific student population rather than individual students. You’ll get a lot of subcategories in there as well, as far as performance and resources.

Those are the data points they’re collecting to help with performance and growth metrics—where you get your school report cards, your graduation rates, dropout rates. Other data points? It’s always funding—making sure the funds are being managed. Every state has a unique way of managing funding and distribution among the schools. Again, it isn’t personal—it’s about each enrolled student and how that funding is going to work.

There is never personal identifying data going back and forth, which is why there are unique identifiers. It’s like your Social Security number; you’re a number. It isn’t about an individual student. It’s about being able to identify growth and progress for the schools and for the state.

How secure is student information?

Nielsen: I love that question. It’s based on the integrity of the organization. I do believe DPI has a lot of integrity and confidentiality in making sure there is a lot of awareness and they’re tied up tight in security. Actually, that is part of the reasoning that Infinite Campus is a better system—they have more integrity with their system than I’ve seen with others, and there are a lot more controls in place that secure data and ensure it stays secure. That’s going to be a benefit for DPI in making sure there’s that security. It comes down to the schools ensuring they follow best practices and that they’re in compliance.

Each organization needs to be aware and progressive in using resources to ensure data security is always there. DPI has that goal. I’ve absolutely seen it from Infinite Campus. I’m confident in our organization. It’s going to be up to the schools to make sure they uphold their side of it.

You’ve been involved in the recent Phase One implementation of Infinite Campus, which launched in February. Could you share your experience with Phase One and your key takeaways as schools prepare for SIS conversion?

Nielsen: A third of the state is moving in Phase One, which will involve a lot of learning for everyone. Phase Two will have some improvements that would have been done in Phase One, had people known. This is a big lift moving an entire state from one system to another. The preparation that schools really need to process through is this: Now is the time to be perfect and accurate with your data. That will make transitioning from one system to another much cleaner and easier to sift through. Trying to clean it up at the last minute or not paying attention to certain data points will bog the process down.

In addition, we can put any system in, but if we don’t utilize training, it won’t matter what system we have. People don’t need to understand the entire system; they need to be very proficient in the area they manage. That’s a big focus. We’ve worked with Infinite Campus over 10 years; they are very knowledgeable on their product and care about the end user experience. They’ve got a lot of great programs and training material, which will help schools prepare. Training will play a huge part in helping to alleviate people’s fears about a new system.

Is there anything I didn’t ask that you think is an important part of this conversation about student data?

 Nielsen: This is such a huge transition. The state has everything from a little charter school—that has to do this on its own, without the backing of a district or education management organization—all the way to a major district or EMO with incredible talent within its teams. DPI is doing its best to keep everything coordinated and keep lines of communication open.

So, take advantage of that and the resources DPI is putting together, in addition to what Infinite Campus has always done really well. Be open-minded and unafraid. That will make it a better experience. Charters—all the way up to district schools—are going to benefit. I am really excited to see this change for North Carolina!

Debbie Veney Op-Ed: Don’t Cut Charter Schools Program Funding

By News

Debbie Veney is the senior vice president for communications and marketing at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Photo credit: NAPCS.

President Biden’s FY 25 budget includes a funding cut to the federal Charter Schools Program. That proposed cut comes after years of  flat funding for a program that plays an important role in launching and expanding public charter schools nationwide. Debbie Veney, a senior vice president at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, has a new op-ed out about the political stakes for cutting charter funding–and how ignoring the needs of parent voters is perilous for politicians.

In our post today, we share an excerpt from Debbie’s op-ed below:

I vote in every election. When it comes to casting a ballot, whether it’s for president, Congress, state legislators, governor, mayor or city council, I am always going to vote based on what’s best for my child. There is nothing a candidate can say about any issue that will change this calculus. If I don’t believe my child will be better off with that person in office, they will not get my vote.

And I am not alone. There are millions of Americans — white, Black, Hispanic, Democrat, Republican, rural, suburban, urban — who will make the very same decision come November. Choosing to put our kids first is not a political issue; it’s just how we are wired.

Charter Review Board Hears Update from 2023 Annual Report

By News

The North Carolina Charter Schools Review Board (CSRB) met yesterday, hearing a presentation on the state’s new 2023 Annual Charter Schools Report. State numbers show a growing and diversifying charter sector–with demand that continues to exceed capacity. Ashley Baquero, the executive director of the Office of Charter Schools, provided the update to CSRB on the new annual report.

Some key takeaways for 2023-24:

  • 210 charter schools are operating across the state during this school year.
  • Charter schools are currently serving 145,975 students, over 10% of the state’s public K-12 enrollment.
  • Charter schools are reporting 85,551 students are on their waitlists.
  • Demographic data reveal a diversifying charter sector, with charter schools enrolling higher percentages of Black and Asian students, as well as students of two or more races, compared to district schools.

Here’s a deeper dive on that charter waitlist data:

  • Over 80% of the state’s charter schools (169 schools) reported waitlists in 2023-24.
  • Nearly 40% of charter schools (83 schools) had waitlists of 200 or more students.
  • Around 18% of charter schools (37 schools) had waitlists of more than 700 students.

Bottom line: More and more North Carolina families are embracing public charter schools for their children. This is an affirmation of the decision lawmakers made over 25 years ago to authorize a system of public charter schools in our state.



United Community School Joins the Coalition

By News

We’re delighted to welcome United Community School to the Coalition! Located in Charlotte’s university area, the K-8 charter school has just signed on as our newest member.

UCS, which is led by Erika Hedgepeth, focuses on hands-on learning, evidence-based instructional practices, and arts integration. Since 2016, UCS has been a member of North Carolina’s A+ Schools network, which emphasizes the critical role of the arts in teaching and learning. UCS’s mission and philosophy coalesce around the “Four Cs”: Communication, Curriculum, Climate, and Character.

Welcome to the Coalition, United Community School! We’re so glad to partner with you in the year ahead.

Learn more about UCS! Click on the screenshot image below to watch a video on the school’s homepage.

High schoolers: Enter the Congressional Art Competition

By News

Calling all N.C. charter high schoolers! Would you like to see your artwork displayed in the U.S. Capitol? Consider entering the Congressional Art Competition, sponsored by the Congressional Institute. This annual art competition first launched in 1982, and since that time, over 650,000 students have participated. Artwork submissions are due April 12, so don’t wait if you’d like to participate!

Here’s a short blurb about the competition from the U.S. House of Representatives:

Students submit entries to their representative’s office, and panels of district artists select the winning entries. Winners are recognized both in their district and at an annual awards ceremony in Washington, DC. The winning works are displayed for one year at the U.S. Capitol.

Screenshot from the U.S. House of Representatives’ Congressional Art Competition webpage: The Misty Window by Alliana Chenault, Alabama, District 4.

Interested in participating? Read more from Congressman Dan Bishop, or view the instructions from his office below:

Each entrant must submit a Student Information and Release Form. A TYPED copy of the Student Information and Release Form, signed by the teacher, a parent or guardian, and the student, must be securely attached to the back of the artwork to certify the originality of the piece. Please retain a copy for your records.

Artwork submissions are due to one of Congressman Bishop’s District Offices by April 12, 2024.

Monroe Office:
Historic Courthouse
300 N. Main Street
Monroe, NC 28112

Salisbury Office:
The Gateway Building
204 E Innes Street
Salisbury, NC 28114

Questions? Email Melissa Merrell in Rep. Bishop’s office at or call (704) 218-5300. View the 2024 rules for students and teachers.

See one of the 2023 winners below, or view selected 2023 artwork here.