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By: David Irvine
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Henderson Collegiate, the proposed charter school for Vance County, will hold a community forum on Tuesday, Sept. 22, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Farm Bureau Room of H. Lesley Perry Memorial Library.

In August, the North Carolina State Board of Education gave preliminary approval for a second charter school in Vance County. Before final approval, the school staff must develop policies, bylaws and procedures which will be reviewed by the state board in March 2010, when final approval is expected. Plans call for the school to open in August 2010.

Eric Sanchez and Carice Cantelupe are the force behind the new school. Both were Teach for America participants who began their educational careers with the Vance County Schools before moving to Gaston College Preparatory School in Northampton County. Much of the inspiration for Henderson Collegiate came from their experience there.

Sanchez is working as school planner this year and will become the school leader when it opens. Cantelupe is continuing with Gaston Prep this year and will assume the position of grade level chair in the new school.

The school will open with about 100 fourth graders in the first year. It will add a grade each year for the following four years, until it includes grades four through eight. In an interview with the Daily Dispatch, Sanchez said they plan to apply later to continue through the twelfth grade.

Henderson Collegiate will provide more hours of learning for students. School hours Monday through Friday will be from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Friday the hours will be 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The school will also include a two-week session in August.

According to Sanchez, the community forum is intended to accomplish several things:

— Describe the school’s educational approach.

— Give the public an opportunity to interact with the staff and board of the new school.

— Answer questions and respond to concerns citizens may have.

— Present the school’s marketing plan and plan of operation.

— Enlist support of the community.

Sanchez said, “This school is being created to serve the historically underserved.”

He emphasized the following points:

— The school is free.

— Transportation and food service will be provided.

— The school will be open to all, but will market itself to low-income students.

— The goal is for every student to graduate.

Three activities are being pursued during the planning year. First, Sanchez and the board are devoting their efforts to raise funds. “We get no state funds during the planning year,” he said. The number of foundations offering funds is limited, he said, especially in a down economy and for a small town that lies outside the “back yard” of many potential donors.

The search for an appropriate facility is also under way. Sanchez said the building must be able to accommodate its first year’s group of fourth-graders and should be within a half-mile of downtown Henderson.

Sanchez and the board are actively marketing the school. This involves recruiting potential students as well as garnering community support. In addition to the community forum, Sanchez will be interviewed on WIZS Radio at 10:40 a.m. on Tuesday. Information can also be found on their website at www.hendersoncollegiate.com.

Sanchez sees Henderson Collegiate as providing students and parents another educational option to complement those offered by other schools in Vance County. He and his colleagues are basing their work on the theme, taken from a quotation by writer James Baldwin: “The children are always ours, every single one of them.”

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.

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