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Pine Lake Prep Student Wins Spectrum Scholar Award

By Awards, News

Ella Wilkinson, a senior at Pine Lake Prep, is a new recipient of the Spectrum High School Scholar Award. Ella plans to use the $1,000 award for college next year at Virginia Tech. A triple threat in sports (basketball, softball, and lacrosse), Ella hopes to study industrial design in college. Congratulations, Ella!

Spectrum describes Scholar Award eligibility this way:

Nominees must be high school seniors at public or private high schools in North Carolina. They must be involved in varsity athletics or have an excellent academic record, and be involved in extracurricular activities, such as band, newspaper, or yearbook, and be active in their local community, either through their school or volunteering on their own time.

Senator Vickie Sawyer presents PLP student Ella Wilkinson with the Spectrum High School Scholar Award. Photo/video credit: Spectrum News.

Here’s what Ella told Spectrum News, which featured her in a recent news story, about her future aspirations and plans:

I think every job needs to have a purpose, and so my purpose is helping others while incorporating other parts like the environment and just making sure that people are being able to get the products that they need … My friends would probably say I’m creative and definitely driven. I care a lot about what I do and like to do it well.

… When I leave Pine Lake, I hope that I can inspire others to kind of be able to do it… all sports, social life and getting good grades and focusing on school because that’s really important to me, and that’s what I have used to help me want to follow my dreams and creating my own sustainable products.

Pine Lake Prep is a public charter school (and Coalition member school) located in Mooresville, North Carolina. The school serves students in grades K-12, and is headed by Andrew Moceri, a member of the Coalition’s Board of Directors.

Federal Charter Schools Program Maintains Level Funding for 2024

By News

The federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) will maintain its current level of funding for 2024. This is good news for a program that, with funding set at $440 million, represents a small fraction of federal spending on education–but plays a big role in helping charter schools nationwide grow. The program provides grants to help new charter schools launch and existing charter schools replicate or expand. In addition, CSP grants target access to facilities and more.

Eric Paisner, the acting president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, released a statement earlier this week about the FY 2024 budget, noting:

In the FY2024 Budget, signed by President Biden just days agothe federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) was protected from cut. Congress included level funding of $440 million for the CSPwhich was a remarkable victory given the contentious nature of the budget appropriations process this year. This marks the fifth year of level funding to the nation’s only source of dedicated federal funding for the creation of high-quality and in-demand public charter schools.  

The FY2024 budget includes new guiding language to allow for more flexibility in the use of CSP funds, including allocating funds to programs based on the needs of the field and supporting technical assistance for subgrantees. Most importantly, the cap is lifted on the State Facilities Incentives Grant, which makes it possible for the program to award new grants more frequently than once every five years. This means more schools will benefit from this funding stream as well as more states will be supported as they establish eligibility for this grant.

We thank the Appropriations Committee Chairs and Ranking Members for recognizing the value and educational opportunity public charter schools provide to families across the nation.

More advocacy for CSP lies ahead, however. Unfortunately, President Biden’s 2025 budget includes a $40 million cut to CSP. The Alliance is asking Congress for $500 million for the program. In addition, Congress is considering two bills that will amplify the work of CSP. Read more about those bills here. See more about the technical changes to CSP in the 2024 budget.

New Fordham Report on N.C. Charter Authorization and School Success

By News, Research

Do charter authorizers successfully predict which schools will flourish and which will fail? A new report from the Fordham Institute tackles that very question, evaluating North Carolina’s track record for applications filed between 2012-13 and the summer of 2017. Study authors then followed schools from one to four years, until the start of the pandemic, to see how they fared.

At the time, members of the then-Charter Schools Advisory Board (CSAB) served as frontline reviewers, making recommendations on new charter schools to the State Board of Education (SBE). SBE then voted as the sole authorizer to approve or reject recommendations.  (Now, due to 2023 legislation, the state’s Charter Schools Review Board approves or rejects new applications and renewals. The State Board of Education serves as an appellate entity.)

During the time period researchers studied, CSAB considered 179 applications, representing four cohorts of applications. CSAB recommended 53 of those applications–around 30%–and 43 opened as schools. The State Board of Education acted in line with CSAB’s recommendations for 90% of the applications.

Here’s the application table from the study:

Source: Adam Kho, Shelby Leigh Smith, and Douglas Lee Lauen, “Do Authorizer Evaluations Predict the Success of New Charter Schools?” Fordham Institute, March 2024.

To characterize the strength of an application, researchers assessed five main application domains: mission and purposes; education plan; governance and capacity; operations; and financial plan. What did they learn? Authorizers’ views were linked to several components of charter success–but there was no surefire way to predict a winner. Specifically, schools with more support from CSAB reviewers were better prepared to launch, but not to meet enrollment goals. In addition, reviewer approval was linked to stronger math performance; the quality of applicants’ education and financial plans also impacted math performance.

Here are the more detailed report findings from Fordham:

First, schools that more reviewers voted to approve were more likely to open their doors on time but no more likely to meet their enrollment targets. In other words, there is some evidence that reviewers were able to identify applicants that had their ducks in a row (though many schools that received fewer votes from reviewers also opened on time).

Second, schools that more reviewers voted to approve performed slightly better in math but not in reading. In other words, reviewers’ collective judgment also said something about how well a new school was likely to perform academically (though again, most of the variation in new schools’ performance was not explained by reviewers’ votes).

Third, ratings for specific application domains mostly weren’t predictive of new schools’ success, but the quality of a school’s education and financial plans did predict math performance. Importantly, these domain-specific ratings were based exclusively on evaluations of schools’ written applications (unlike reviewers’ final votes, which also reflected their interviews with applicants and whatever other information was at hand).

Finally, despite the predictivity of reviewers’ votes, simulations show that raising the bar for approval would have had little effect on the success rate of new schools. For example, reducing the share of applications that were approved from 30 percent to 15 percent wouldn’t have discernibly boosted approved schools’ reading or math performance, nor would increasing the number of “yes” votes required for approval.

Researchers provide three key takeaways from the study:

  • In general, CSAB was able to differentiate between stronger and weaker applications.
  • Board members’ professional judgment is at least as important as whatever appears in a school’s written application.
  • Raising the bar for approval wouldn’t significantly improve charters’ chances of success.

Finally, researchers make several recommendations for charter authorizers, moving forward:

  • First, closely evaluate applicants’ education or financial plans.
  • Next, include “multiple data sources and perspectives” in consideration.
  • Finally, hold “approved schools accountable for results.”

Read EdNC’s coverage of the study. View the full report by clicking here or below.

New coverage from our Charter Advocacy Summit

By News

We have new coverage to share from our 2024 Charter Advocacy Summit! We include our recap video below, along with an excerpt from an excellent article in North State Journal covering our March 7 reception and March 8 Summit.

Thank you to the speakers, charter leaders, and sponsors who participated in interviews–and to Brian Jodice who pulled the recap video together. Thanks again to our event sponsors, who made the Summit possible.


Here’s an excerpt from the NSJ article, which covers Superintendent Truitt’s reception speech:

In her remarks, Truitt noted how charter schools had kept their doors open during the pandemic, oftentimes “at a loss,” and showed parents how important charter schools are in North Carolina. She added that around 10% of students in the state attend a charter school.

“I am so incredibly proud of what this community did in order to help students recover from the pandemic more quickly than students who were shut out of their schools for longer,” said Truitt. “It was clear then, as it is now, that the opportunity to have choice in where a child goes to school, as well as choice in a method that your child best learns, are the greatest equalizers for parents and children.

“And there are absolutely forces in our state that want to take that choice away from you. And we are in a battle of philosophies between funding buildings and funding students … funding the system or funding students. And if we’re not careful, we are going to lose that battle.”

Watch Superintendent Truitt’s full remarks at the reception here. Read a more comprehensive recap of the Summit here.

Apply for the Yass Prize in Education by April 18!

By News
Have you considered applying for the Yass Prize? Known as the “Pulitzer of Education,” the Yass Prize and related STOP awards recognize educators who provide students with an education that aligns with the STOP acronym (sustainable, transformational, outstanding, and permissionless).

The grand prize award is worth $1 million. In addition to the grand prize, the Yass Foundation recognizes nine finalists and 40 semifinalists with STOP awards.

Applications are due by 12 p.m. on Thursday, April 18, 2024.

Yass Prize Graphic Source: Yass Foundation

Meet the 2024 N.C. Charter School Principal of the Year

By News

Dr. Sarena Fuller, the executive director of ArtSpace Charter School in Swannanoa, is the new 2024 Charter School Principal of the Year. On January 25, the Department of Public Instruction announced Dr. Fuller’s honor in a press release naming eight other Regional Principals of the Year. All nine school leaders, including Dr. Fuller, will compete for the statewide distinction of Wells Fargo Principal of the Year, which will be awarded on May 24.

 A K-8 public charter school, ArtSpace focuses on arts integration throughout the school curriculum. ArtSpace is also a North Carolina A+ School, a school network and program established by the North Carolina Arts Council.

 Kristen Blair, the Coalition’s communications director, spoke with Dr. Fuller about her work to create a supportive school culture, the importance of arts integration in learning, her autonomy as a charter leader, and more.

 We share the full interview below.

You began your career as a teacher, later becoming a school administrator. What initially drew you to education as a career?

Dr. Sarena Fuller is the 2024 N.C. Charter School Principal of the Year. Photo credit: ArtSpace Charter School.

Dr. Sarena Fuller: I always wanted to be in education. I never really saw another career path for myself, even from a young age. Education was always it for me! I attribute that to being in the North Carolina public school system—it was such a fulfilling, engaging experience for me as a child. I was really lucky to be in schools that fostered a natural curiosity and love of learning.  

Once I graduated high school, I became a Teaching Fellow and went to East Carolina University. ECU’s program and the NC Teaching Fellows Program offered such a comprehensive experience for college students to see different educational environments across the state. There was a whole summer bus tour! I remember seeing charter schools then—and traditional schools as well as a military-based school. It was just a whole new lens, and it deepened my love for this work.

What compelled you to work at a public charter school, and at ArtSpace Charter School in particular?

Fuller: I started out as a high school teacher in a traditional district, which was a phenomenal experience. I was lucky to be on the faculty of a new traditional high school. Then I moved to a state-run school, the North Carolina School for the Deaf, which was a very different context and environment. Both of those were incredible experiences, but I needed something at that point in my career with more flexibility and autonomy. That’s why charters spoke to me. I always felt like I wanted to do more to support the integrity of the classroom. The charter environment, with its autonomy and flexibility, was designed to be innovative and take risks. That was really appealing to me.  

ArtSpace took that concept and doubled down on it. Innovation is a way of thinking, embedded in the culture. Risk-taking was encouraged, as it’s modeled after artists in the arts-integrated curriculum. Art is a process, as is learning. Art can be messy, and so can learning. That spoke to my philosophy and motivation.

Why is arts integration in learning so important? 

Fuller: Humans are naturally artistic, even if we don’t feel like we’re great singers or dancers or we can’t draw very well. Having an appreciation for art is part of our being. Who among us doesn’t love to crank up the radio on a commute in and sing at the top of our lungs, even if we’re off key? It’s one of these things we can connect to.

Art also provides a non-threatening access point to the curriculum. A student might have math anxiety or shut down if you put a worksheet in front of him, or say, “Hey, let’s multiply some fractions. Let’s talk about ratios.”  But if you approach that with an art lens first, and say, “Hey, let’s listen to some music.” Or better yet: “Let’s look at this guitar—the frets, the strings. Did you know that’s a ratio?” You’ve got him bought in, before you even talked about math. You’re making a connection to something that is not intimidating, that he can already connect to and see. There’s so much interconnectedness in what we study in our world. Art bridges that connection.

Dr. Sarena Fuller at ArtSpace Charter School. Photo credit: Sarena Fuller.

You’ve spoken about how a school is an interrelated ecosystem. Could you share more about that?

Fuller: I think about all that schools do for students and the community, and how everyone you meet in any context is going to have a connection to a school. They’ve been to school, they have children in school, or they know somebody who’s a teacher or works within a school system. Schools are one of the bedrocks of our society, and everyone is connected to that in some way.

What a parent needs from a school is very different from what a student needs from a school. Yet teachers’ experiences at school will drive both of those relationships. And my relationships with the teachers will influence how they interact within that system. So, acknowledging all of these layers of importance, and how one impacts the other, is really how we create a culture based on trust and respect. It’s what allows that ecosystem to thrive for the student, ultimately.

How do principals shape school culture?

Fuller: Principals set the tone. They set the example, and they lead the way. Sometimes leading the way means getting out of the way! It’s recognizing that everyone is coming into this building giving their best. You have to trust that. Sometimes that’s stepping out on a limb, especially when things are challenging, post pandemic—when everything feels a little bit harder. But you trust that everyone’s coming into the building with their best.

People want to be happy. [Teachers] want to be happy at work. The kids want to be happy in the classrooms, and they want to be successful. With that understanding, you just find ways to create space and acceptance—for the good days, the bad days, for things that go well and things that don’t.

Students are no less respected for having bad days, for failing a test, or for making a bad decision. They are still loved, welcomed, and appreciated; they have value, regardless. If you create that space, people shine. And that’s the culture: the people, and giving them the space to be their authentic, true selves.

ArtSpace Charter was recognized last year for work with students with disabilities, middle schoolers, and overall innovation. To what do you attribute the school’s success, and what would you share with other school leaders about creating a culture of excellence?

Fuller: We had back-to-back banner years in student growth. We’re really thrilled and so proud. I attribute that to our people, one hundred percent—our teachers, support staff, and the community that supports us. In the same ways that I spoke about a school leader giving people space, the community gives us space to work, and they’re supportive. I think what really drives that home is the culture that builds. It’s so worth the investment in people and thinking, “People first, students first.”  

You hear so much about socio-emotional regulation, and what schools need to do to support that, post-pandemic. It really is prioritizing the whole child before you can even think about high dose tutoring and doubling down in academics. Some schools have cut art programming and recess to lengthen the academic day. While I understand the intent to do that to make up on the academic loss, we’re people first. We need that outlet, and we need to build in SEL [social and emotional learning] through the content and how we interact with one another in our school environment.

That’s the advice I would give to school leaders. Think about growth, not first as academics, but as growing people. People want to do well. We’re just creating the environment where they can thrive. So, it’s the environment, culture, and trust.

In January, you were recognized as North Carolina’s 2024 Charter School Principal of the Year. What was that recognition like, and what are your goals for this year?  

Fuller: It was such a special moment. We had a school assembly and DPI [Department of Public Instruction] visitors and our board chair here. Sharing that news with our students and seeing how excited they were for me—for us—was really fulfilling. There are hundreds of school leaders statewide who deserve accolades and honors for the work that they’re doing. So, it is an honor to carry that banner on their behalf. I’m humbled as well. As a reflective practitioner, I always look at our work: What could I do better? Where can I improve? What can I learn from other people who are doing great things as well?

My goals for the next year include, first, shining a light on the innovative things happening in our charter schools statewide. That includes the incredible work of teachers and school leaders to get back on track and create positive learning environments.  

Second, I want to learn from others. I feel great about what we’re doing here at ArtSpace. But there are other models, other charters, and other philosophies that are different from ours and worth learning from.  

If I am chosen as the state Principal of the Year, I would want to use that to honor North Carolina’s public school system. This would be a full circle moment for me because I am a product of, and believe in, North Carolina’s school system.  

What is your favorite charter school moment?

Fuller: A moment that cemented the value and importance of charter schools for me occurred on March 13, 2020. That’s the day everything shut down for the pandemic. Being at the table with other charter leaders in my region as well as district leaders, I saw how quickly charter schools could pivot. I saw how in tune charter schools were to their community needs, without doing a survey or going back to the office. That’s the beauty of being a charter. We know our community, and we know the students we serve. We have the ability to turn on a dime because we have autonomy and flexibility. That was an “aha” moment for me.

Given the circumstances, this wasn’t my favorite snapshot in time. But it was a pivotal moment for me in my leadership.

Is there anything I didn’t ask that you believe is an important part of this conversation?

Fuller: It’s all worth every minute. Our work is challenging—the physical and emotional labor—and the public narrative is perhaps controversial. We have schools dealing with a lot of things that are thrown at them, and teachers, students, and school leaders are feeling that burden. It’s important to me to remind people that it’s worth it, and that we do it for the right reasons because we care.

One thing that I keep telling my staff is to zoom out, mentally—when you feel overwhelmed, or you’re looking for the good in the day, or you need a little pick me up—just for fun, once a day or once a week. Think outside your office, your classroom, and your school. See all the good, all the ripples that we create through the work we do—the late nights, grading papers, and board meetings. Zoom out and see the impact because it matters.


It’s a Wrap! Coalition Hosts Second Charter Advocacy Summit

By News
Our second-ever Charter Advocacy Summit is now behind us for another year, and what a day it was! A sold out crowd of 200+ charter leaders and stakeholders–as well as charter industry experts and professionals–joined us on Friday for a day of networking and learning about charter school advocacy. The Summit was preceded by another great event on Thursday night: a kick-off reception, headlined by State Superintendent Catherine Truitt. State lawmakers, charter leaders, and charter stakeholders also attended the event. Representatives from 98 North Carolina charter schools joined us for the reception and/or Summit! National education expert Jeanne Allen headlined the Summit luncheon on Friday. In addition, attendees heard from Senator Amy Galey, Senator Mike Woodard, Senator Steve Jarvis, Rep. Jeff Zenger, state charter leaders, industry experts, and more! Thank you to everyone who attended, and to our Summit sponsors, who made the event possible! We share photos and more below:

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt receives a leadership award from Coalition Board Chair Jonathan Bryant and Vice Chair Sandeep Aggarwal on Thursday, March 7.

Students from TMSA lead the singing of the Star Spangled Banner and recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at the Coalition’s 2024 Charter Advocacy Summit on Friday, March 8, in Raleigh.


Students from Paul R. Brown Leadership Academy’s color guard team perform at the beginning of Friday’s Summit.

More than 200 attendees convened for the Summit.

Thank you to our amazing 2024 Charter Advocacy Summit sponsors!

Rising Leaders Application Deadline Extended Until March 15

By News

The application deadline for the Rising Leaders Initiative has been extended! Charter leaders now have until next Friday, March 15, to recommend a student to participate in this national advocacy program run by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Here are the eligibility requirements, according to the Alliance. Students must be:

  • Enrolled at a charter high school in the U.S.
  • In good academic standing.
  • Have a “demonstrated commitment to service through volunteering and contributing to their school and community.”
  • Possess an interest in “advocacy, leadership, and policy.”

Here’s how the Alliance describes the Rising Leaders Initiative:

The Rising Leaders Initiative is a one-year advocacy training program for high school students who attend charter schools. It is designed to inspire student engagement in education advocacy and cultivate the next generation of young leaders who will shape education policies in their local communities and states. By providing students with the tools and resources they need to become effective advocates for choices in public education, we can create a brighter future for all students.

Click HERE to learn more, recommend a student, or share the link to apply. The program begins in August and concludes in June 2025. Participating students are eligible for a $3,000 stipend. Direct questions to risingleaders@publiccharters.org.

Watch the video welcoming the 2023-24 cohort of Rising Leaders:

Vote for pro-charter candidates in the primary election!

By Election 2024
Early voting for the upcoming primary election ends at 3 p.m. this Saturday, March 2. Please vote for a pro-charter candidate–whether you vote early or on Election Day, March 5!  To educate voters about how the primary candidates stack up on support for public charter schools, the Coalition Board of Directors has endorsed a slate of pro-charter candidates.

Candidates endorsed by the Coalition

North Carolina House of Representatives
North Carolina Senate
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
*Candidates with an asterisk are not incumbents.

In a press release announcing the candidate endorsements, Lindalyn Kakadelis, executive director of the Coalition, said:

Our organization endorses candidates exclusively on the basis of their support for public charter schools. Parents deserve a choice in their public schooling, and we use what resources we have to see to it that parents know who supports their choice and who doesn’t. These candidates have a track record of supporting public charter schools. They embrace the idea that parents deserve options in deciding which public school environment will best help their children achieve their full potential.

More information about voting in the primary election

Election Day voting on Tuesday, March 5, runs from 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. Access more information about your in-person voting place on Election Day. When you vote, remember to bring your photo I.D.
Elections have consequences. The success of North Carolina’s charter movement pivots around the outcome of elections. Working to elect pro-charter candidates means the Coalition is able to advance our legislative goals at the General Assembly of protecting charter autonomy and pushing for fair funding. Please vote!
Coalition endorsements are non-partisan and issue-driven. View our Guidelines for Candidate Endorsement.

Last Call to Register for the 2024 Advocacy Summit

By News
The Charter Advocacy Summit is just over ONE WEEK AWAY, and we are expecting A BIG CROWD! This is the last call to register. You can register for the Summit HERE.

Important links:

Hotel information:

The deadline for booking a hotel room under the Coalition’s group rate has passed, but there are lots of other hotel options nearby! Options include: Embassy Suites Raleigh CrabtreeHampton Inn & Suites Raleigh/Crabtree Valley, and Hilton Garden Inn Raleigh/Crabtree Valley.