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May 03, 2009

What would a new Vance County charter school look like? Pretty much like Gaston College Preparatory School, located in Gaston in the northeast corner of Halifax County, if Eric Sanchez and Carice Cantelupe’s plans materialize.

Sanchez and Cantelupe have submitted an application for a new charter school to the North Carolina State Board of Education. So far, they have passed several major hurdles. The first was when their application was one of 16 approved in a first cut. More recently, the field was reduced to six. Their application is one of the six. Three new charter schools can be approved under current legislation, which limits the number of charter schools in the state to 100.

Sanchez and Cantelupe teach at Gaston College Preparatory School. They are using that school as a model for their proposed school. Tentatively titled the Henderson Collegiate School, the new school would focus on serving fourth- through eighth-grade students who are at risk of underachieving.

GCP is one of 66 KIPP schools throughout the United States. KIPP stands for “Knowledge is Power Program.” The program was first implemented in Houston by two Teach for America alumni. Their students’ academic success and interest in learning inspired them to expand the program to other parts of the country. Each KIPP school is free, has open enrollment and serves an “under-resourced” community.

The KIPP program uses outstanding educators, more time in school, a rigorous college-preparatory curriculum, and a strong culture of achievement to help students improve their academic performance. The majority of KIPP schools are middle schools. For that reason, a long-term goal is for students to continue to excel in high school and college after leaving the KIPP school.

A 2005 study by the prestigious Educational Policy Institute found that KIPP schools produced increases “well above normal growth rates” in reading, language, and mathematics and concluded: “The data suggest that these schools are doing something right.” Results at Gaston College Preparatory School are consistent with the EPI findings. Sanchez and Cantelupe hope to duplicate those outcomes in Vance County.

A visit to the Gaston school shows a student body more than 80 percent African American. The Daily Dispatch was given a tour conducted by eighth-grader Janay Ward and seventh-grader Joshua George, both of Henderson. Students throughout the school were wearing GCP T-shirts of different colors. As an option, a student may wear a shirt representing a favorite college. Other shirts had uplifting quotations from Robert F. Kennedy, Mohammed Ali, Arthur Ashe and other notables. The remainder of the school “uniform” is black or tan slacks.

Reports by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction show that in 2007-2008 70.2 percent of students at GCP scored at or above grade level in reading and 81 percent in math. Overall, the school obtained a designation as a “School of Progress,” indicating that at least 60 percent of students performed at or better than grade level.

If approved, Henderson Collegiate School will open in the fall of 2010. In the first year, 100 fourth graders will be admitted. After that, a grade will be added each year until that initial group reaches the eighth grade. A site has not been selected, but Sanchez and Cantelupe hope to locate the school within a half mile of downtown Henderson to make it easily accessible for students without transportation.

The next step in the approval process will take place on Tuesday, when Sanchez and Cantelupe will be interviewed by the Leadership for Innovation Committee of the SBE. The committee will then make recommendations to the full board regarding approval of the three new charter schools. If Sanchez and Cantelupe’s proposal is one of the three, they will spend the 2009-2010 school year fleshing out their proposal.

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