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Apr 25,2009

Area students may soon have another school option, if the efforts by Eric Sanchez and Carice Cantelupe are successful.

The two young teachers are pursing the establishment a second charter school in Vance County, which would be named Henderson Collegiate, and their proposal has made it down to the final stage of the state approval process. On Thursday in Raleigh, a long list of new charter school propositions in the state — a list that had been whittled down over the course of a Department of Public Instruction review process — was further reduced to only six whose prospective founders will be interviewed by a state panel. Of those six, three will be granted charters to open their schools.

North Carolina has a limit of 100 charter schools statewide, so new proposals are only considered when schools that were already in business are closed. Three closures have created opportunities upon which Henderson Collegiate’s supporters hope to capitalize.

A charter school is a publicly funded school that operates under a private, nonprofit board rather than under the authority of the local board of education. Charter schools are allowed to operate under a locally tailored set of rules rather than the more rigid structure that traditional public schools must follow.

Vance County already has one successful charter school — Vance Charter, located in the Henderson Mall complex on Dabney Drive. That school is open to all students, provided parents can provide daily transportation for their children and are willing to serve a minimum number of volunteer hours on behalf of the school. Demand for positions in Vance Charter has traditionally been high, with a lottery employed to fill new vacancies in each class.

The school serves grades K through 8.

According to Sanchez — who met with Dispatch staff members in the days prior to the state’s interview decisions Thursday — Henderson Collegiate would be different, focusing its efforts on students who are at risk of underachieving.

Sanchez and Cantelupe are former Teach for America participants who began their education careers with the Vance County Schools. Sanchez taught for four years at Eaton-Johnson Middle School; Cantelupe, for six years at Pinkston Street Elementary School.

More recently, Sanchez and Cantelupe have taught at Gaston College Preparatory School in Halifax County. GCPS is a charter school serving grades five through 12. Their success at that school has inspired them to attempt to bring some of those techniques to Henderson.

Sanchez and Cantelupe applied to the State Board of Education for approval as a charter school, knowing that competition for the three new vacancies would be intense. Sanchez and Cantalupe have a local board of directors assembling to serve Henderson Collegiate as the school plans move forward.

The approval process presents several hurdles. Sanchez and Cantelupe cleared the first when their application was one of 16 to receive preliminary approval by the Leadership for Innovation Committee of the State Board of Education. This week, that group of 16 was whittled down to a half-dozen; Sanchez and Cantelupe’s application was among them.

The next step will be an interview with the Leadership for Innovation Committee in early May. The committee will then recommend three applicants to the State Board of Education. If approved by SBE, the winning applicants will use the 2009-2010 school year to flesh out the details of their plans. Final approval is scheduled for March 2010. Vance County’s new charter school could open that fall.

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