One of the nine charter schools approved in March by the N.C State Board of Education for “fast-track approval” appears to have goofed in how it conducted its lottery to select students, and is redoing its lottery as a result.
The Research Triangle High School, in Durham, had already sent out notices to 160 ninth-graders that thought they’d secured spots through the lottery the new school had earlier.
But school staff will have to hold another lottery tomorrow, after staff from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s charter school office recently examined the school’s selection process and found what the state office saw to be issues, said Pamela Blizzard, a founding member of the Research Triangle Charter Academy.
The second lottery will be held Tuesday, Blizzard said.
The Research Triangle High School had 225 applicants, and 160 slots, according to a message on the schools’ Facebook page. Students who don’t get a slot in the lottery process will be put on a waiting list.
An email had gone out after a weekend decision to hold another lottery, but the email didn’t go into great detail about the problems. Blizzard said she was waiting until an Open House scheduled for the Durham school tonight to explain the situation.
About 25 students who applied to the schools were not included in the lottery because they appeared to be more accelerated and advanced in Algebra than the student population that the school hoped to target, Blizzard said.
“We emailed them and said we’re not offering these higher level courses,” Blizzard said.
The charter school office had just started reviewing the school’s lottery and selection process with the last few weeks when a staffer flagged the exclusion of the group of students as worrisome, Blizzard said. The school is still required to accept those students, and offer them a spot at the school if they make it through the lottery process, she said.
Blizzard said the accelerated students weren’t included because school leaders wanted the school to be for more middle-of-the-pack students, and didn’t plan on offering classes geared toward more advanced high schoolers.
But that exclusion violates a state requirement that all children be given equal shots at getting into charter schools, regardless of their backgrounds or abilities.
Charter schools are public schools funded that operate outside the confines of traditional school districts, and are required to be open to children of all ability and backgrounds. The schools are funded with taxpayer money, but governed by non-profit organizations. In some cases, for-profit management companies come in and run the schools.
The N.C. General Assembly removed a 100-school cap on charter schools last year, which has brought in a flood of applications. In addition to the nine schools approved by the state education board to open their doors this fall, more than 60 other groups have applied to open up schools in the 2013-2014 school year.
It’s not clear why the issues with the school’s lottery process emerged just four months before the school will open this fall, and not earlier.
Staff from DPI’s Office of Charter Schools said they became aware of the issue after beginning trainings for the new charter schools in late March.
The charter school had submitted its proposal to DPI in November, and had its application vetted by the both an advisory charter school committee and DPI staff before the N.C. State Board of Education gave its approval in March. The local school district in Durham had voiced its opposition to the school, arguing that it would attract an exclusive population of students and defund the Durham schools of needed education dollars.
Staffing levels have been an ongoing challenge at the Office of Charter Schools, which lists just six people responsible for overseeing the existing 100 charter schools as well as handling the dozens of applications that have come in for new charter schools since the N.C. General Assembly lifted the cap.
Joel Medley, the head of the DPI’s Office of Charter Schools, was not available Monday to answer questions about the situation, but did offer this written statement.
OCS, based upon information received from our provided trainings, discovered some questions regarding the lottery process. We looked into the situation further and inquired of the exact process. Based upon that discovery, we met with representatives from RTHS and asked for additional information. We allowed the school to propose alternatives for resolution and then provided feedback. Thus, they are now going to redraw their lottery.