02/17/13 — Second charter school in the works

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Second charter school in the works

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 17, 2013 1:50 AM

The president of a Goldsboro tutoring service for more than two decades is laying the groundwork to bring another charter school to the area in 2014.

Dr. Ken Benton, who runs Academics Plus with his wife, Dr. Marilyn Benton, director, founded the learning center in Dunn in 1989 and brought it to Goldsboro a year later. It has been an approved provider for after school and supplemental tutoring services, most recently adding an online component.

The former educators began the educational assessment center and have worked closely with the state and school system to provide services for low-achieving children, helping them to meet the academic standards.

Benton said he was approached about developing another charter school in the area. There is currently one charter school in Goldsboro. Dillard Academy, on Elm Street, was started in 1998 and has classes from kindergarten through fourth grade.

Charter schools are considered public schools that operate under a different set of rules than the typical state-run schools. North Carolina charter schools were established in 1996 by N.C. House Bill 955, also known as the Charter School Act, in an effort to improve the academic chances and performance of those students considered at-risk.

Until recently, though, the option of introducing another one was non-existent.

For years, North Carolina could have no more than 100 charter schools. In 2011, though, the General Assembly voted to lift the cap, allowing an unlimited number of charter schools in the state.

"I have been in education a long time," Benton said. "The state has limited the charter school movement quite a bit.

"When the Race to the Top money came in, they had to agree with the federal government that there would be more charter schools. The federal government has found them to be successful where they have opened up."

As of now, local efforts are preliminary, Benton said.

"We're in the rudimentary foundation part of this right now," he said last week. "We're following the procedures that the state sets up. We have been holding public hearings, opening it up so people are aware of it.

"We're forming a board, following procedures that the state has set up, to set up in the fall of 2014. Right now we're doing the legwork and time and front work you have to do before you can submit an application (and are) in the processing of putting in applications you have to get in by March 1."

In addition to those fundamentals, other requirements include creating by-laws, establishing non-profit status and curriculum, determining grade levels it will serve and the rules and regulations.

Benton said he has all sorts of ideas about all those areas, "but it's not set in stone."

"We're basically in the elementary level of this, but we're moving forth, we're having a lot of interest shown in this," he said.

Overall, he said it's been an exciting venture and has the potential to fill a need in the community.

"I think it gives the public an opportunity to basically have a school that's independent standing -- people that attend that school and parents will pretty much have a voice in the school very closely and having a board that's set up that has a different approach to how children learn, how to approach that and I guess have a curriculum that's maybe a little bit different from the public schools," he said.

The option also affords a bit more flexibility in being more "experimental" than the constraints of a public school, he added.

"Having a bit more latitude in their learning makes a better approach," he said. "Also, I think the school will be more structured where it will be run by teachers and parents and they'll have a say in how the school is run."

While charter schools are run independently, they are still subject to regulation, Benton said.

"Basically, there's a charter school department in DPI (Department of Public Instruction) so they're in charge of the charter schools just like there's a non-public section for private schools," he said. "But they fund these charter schools, the state funds the charter schools the same as if they were a public school."

At this point, Benton is still setting up public meetings. The next one will be Tuesday night at 6 p.m. at Herman Park Center.

"Most of the interest has been through our website, www.waynprepnc.org," he said, referencing the school's proposed name, Wayne Preparatory Academy. "We have some ideas but I think down the road, this is probably going to be a better story in the summer when we have our charter and have made some decisions."

As for his existing business on Berkeley Boulevard, there are no plans to change its status.

"Academics Plus is still Academics Plus. The charter school is separate. Some folks decided to put this together. It's a different venue that we're into," he said, adding, "I think having a variety in this county will not be a bad thing."