School options may widen in Knightdale by 2015

aspecht@newsobserver.comSeptember 16, 2013 

Bob Luddy tells parents at Knightdale Town Hall last March that Thales Academy, a network of private schools he’s considering expanding to Knightdale, helps children reach their highest potential.

PAUL A. SPECHT — aspecht@newsobserver.com

— By 2015, the number of eastern Wake charter schools may double, and the number of alternative schools in the region may triple.

East Wake Academy, a charter school in Zebulon, is currently the only major alternative to traditional public schools in eastern Wake.

But recently, administrators of Thales Academy, a Triangle-based private school system, have said they hope to open an elementary school in Knightdale by fall 2015. And on Sept. 7, Cardinal Charter Academy filed a letter of intent with the state to open a school at an unspecified location in Knightdale for the 2015-2016 school year.

Thales Academy hopes to build its two-story brick building adjacent to Knightdale Station, the new park the town is scheduled to open Sept. 19. Karl Blackley, president of Preston Development, recently said he’s in the final stages of contract talks with Thales Academy.

Cardinal Charter Academy doesn’t own land in Knightdale and hasn’t identified where it hopes to build in Knightdale, according to Allen Taylor, board chairman for Cardinal Charter Academy. But the charter hopes to act soon, Taylor said in a recent interview.

Representatives for both schools say Knightdale appeals to them because the town lacks education options. There currently is no magnet, charter, or private school in Knightdale. Additionally, many of the region’s schools have a high percentage of students from impoverished families. Test scores and high school graduation rates at schools in Knightdale, Wendell and Zebulon tend to lag behind the county average.

“We noted the demographics in the area of Knightdale … and thought there was a need,” Taylor said. “It's certainly an underserved community.”

Charter schools are public, taxpayer-funded schools that are exempt from some of the regulations that traditional public schools must follow. They are also independent of the school districts in which they’re located.

Demand for alternative schools likely would have been lower if East Wake Academy followed through with plans to open a sister school, Carolina Charter Academy, at the corner of Poole and Hodge roads in Knightdale by fall 2013. East Wake Academy halted expansion plans after firing former headmaster Brandon Smith.

Cardinal Charter Academy is part of a wave of charter schools proposed since the legislature eliminated the 100-school cap in 2011. There are 127 charter schools already open in North Carolina and that number could grow to 153 next year; the State Board of Education gave preliminary approval last week for 26 charters to open in 2014.

The number of charters could double in two years. More than 170 charter schools met the state’s Sept. 7 deadline for submitting letters of intent to open in August 2015. Cardinal Charter Academy was the only school that identified a desire to open a school in eastern Wake – but there could be others. Many of the 39 applications for schools in the Triangle-area didn't list a specific location. Twenty new charter schools are proposed for Wake County.

Staff writer T. Keung Hui contributed.

Specht: 919-829-4826

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