Sunday, September 24, 2023

Charlotte nonprofit applies to open charter school in Wilmington

The transportation zone intended for the Movement School’s Wilmington campus on the northside. (Courtesy Movement School)

WILMINGTON — Local parents seeking school choice may have one more option in the next couple years per a pending charter application from a Charlotte education network.

READ MORE: State Republicans override 6 vetoed bills on transgender rights, charter schools, building code

The state, through the North Carolina General Assembly’s recently created charter school review board, is set to consider the Movement School’s request for a 582-student elementary charter school to be located in Wilmington. If approved, the opening is scheduled for August 2025. 

The Movement School operates a nexus of charter schools in the Charlotte area, including four elementary and one middle school. The school system’s mission is: 

“We exist to love and nurture scholars by leading a movement of change in education through academic excellence, character development, and preparation for success in life.” 

The group opened its first charter, Freedom Elementary in West Charlotte, in 2017; it now serves more than 500 students with a 300-plus waiting list, according to the group’s website

Port City Daily reached out to Movement School board chair Tim Hurley to gain more information on the school’s vision; there was no response by press.

Movement School Eastland was the group’s next project in 2020, located in East Charlotte, followed by its first middle school, Movement Freedom in 2021. 

In 2022, Movement School opened its newest campus serving the southwest region of the Queen City. 

According to its website, Movement School has ambitions not just for Wilmington, but other cities in North Carolina and across the Southeast as well. All dated 2024 on the website, future locations include Raleigh and Greensboro, along with campuses in Charleston, South Carolina, and two locations in Georgia — Atlanta and Athens

Movement School’s application reports the Wilmington campus — yet to have an exact site— will serve students from low-income backgrounds. As charters are considered public schools and regulated by the state, they are not allowed to charge tuition nor discriminate based on race, religion, national origin or disability. 

The application states its target neighborhood, Wilmington’s Northside, has an average household income of $40,000, just three-fifths of the county’s median income of $62,000. School leaders anticipate 75% to 90% of its students will qualify for free or reduced lunch, compared to around 44% of New Hanover County Schools’ population. Because of its service to the surrounding area, Movement School also estimates its population will be 61% Black, almost 17% Hispanic, 14% white, 7% multiracial, and less than 1% American Indian or Asian. 

The application states academic performance results for the traditional public schools within a 2-mile radius of the site — Forest Hills Elementary, Rachel Freeman Elementary, Snipes Elementary — “collectively reveal gaps among low-income student populations.” 

State data shows Snipes had a proficiency rate of nearly 30% in 2021-2022, while Rachel Freeman’s was less than 5% and Forest Hills was 20%. Movement’s Freedom Elementary campus — which provides built-in tutoring and small teacher-student ratios to a 91% Black student body — had a proficiency rate of 43% in the same year. 

Movement School said it provides “data-driven and culturally responsive instruction” using small groups and personalized teaching, while also providing students with “socio-emotional support and character development.” 

The school also boasts providing extended instructional hours — 40 minutes of additional time four days a week — along with tutoring from certified teachers and an eight-week intensive intended for incoming students to “catch-up.” The school also utilizes a co-teaching method; when developed at full capacity, the intention is 28 students and two teachers per classroom.

The application states Movement School will provide transportation to students within a 3- to 5-mile radius. It will also offer free and subsidized onsite Pre-K. 

The Movement School’s Wilmington application will be on the charter school review board’s first slate. The body was previously an advisory board, making recommendations to the State Board of Education, which had final say on charter approvals. 

That changed this year, when the General Assembly passed House Bill 618, transferring approval power from the state board to the charter review board and giving appointing power over the majority of board members to the General Assembly. Initially vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper, the legislature’s Republican supermajority overrode it and passed the law in August.

The move demonstrated state Republicans’ support for school choice through rule changes regarding charter and private schools. The latter saw the General Assembly remove income caps for school vouchers in April, essentially opening up government funding to pay for many more people’s children to attend private schools, not just those in economic need.

H.B. 618 passed the governor override alongside other charter school legislation;  House Bill 219 authorizes low-performing charters to increase their enrollment caps per state approval. Under the previous law, low-performing charters could not increase their maximum enrollment authorization by more than 20% of the previous year’s enrollment.

H.B. 219 also allows county governments to transfer capital outlay funds directly to charter schools, rather than going through the traditional schools.

Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at 

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