As my child enters Kindergarten next year, I wanted to look into all of the options that Durham had to offer and see which one was the best for him. While I know that charter schools can be controversial in Durham, I wanted to let you know what I discovered.
As always, my suggestion to you is to visit all of the schools, including your neighborhood schools and any public magnet options, make your decision, and then go with it. Don't look back and feel confident that you made the best decision for your child that you could.
There are more charter schools located in the Durham area and more slated to open next year. These are just the ones that I toured this year.
Central Park School for Children-K-6 charter school (in 2014-15 school year)
Central Park School for Children is a free, public charter school located in downtown Durham near the farmer's market and Durham Central Park. Traditionally they have been K-5th grade but starting next year they will begin a gradual expansion to middle school with the addition of a 6th grade. Central Park is a child-centered, project-based, integrated arts school. This means that they teach all of the core subjects, but they also have time where the children can learn through the creation of a child-centered project to express their learning in their own way. At the end of the year, like in the regular public schools, students take the End of Grade tests and typically perform very well.
Central Park is unique because they offer small class sizes and address their teachers by their first name. They also have a parent commitment of a certain number of hours per year spent in school related activities. In addition, Central Park has some unique special movement class opportunities including yoga, dance, and aikido.
Central Park School for Children admits students based on a lottery. Priority is given to siblings of currents students, children of faculty, and a percentage of free and reduced lunch students. Once those students are admitted they have a lottery and the few remaining spots are filled. The lottery for 2014 is held on March 11 at 10am and applications must be submitted by them. Applications can be filled out simply online.
Voyager Academy-K-12 charter school
Voyager Academy is a free, public charter school located in N. Durham just off of Duke and Roxboro Sts. It is also based in project based learning, experiencing the curriculum in meaningful ways to encourage learning. Their daily schedule consists of core subject time as well as time for project-based learning. Voyager Academy has a dress code. The elementary school starts their day at 7:30am and ends at 2:20 except on Monday where their day ends at 12:30 for teacher professional development purposes. Students at Voyager also take and perform well on the NC End of Grade Tests.
Voyager Academy also admits students based on a lottery procedure. Priority admission is given to siblings and children of faculty. Then, students are admitted through a lottery. In 2014, the lottery will be held on March 15 at noon. Applications can be completed easily online and must be completed by that time. It is very difficult to get a spot in the elementary school after the kindergarten entry point.
Kestrel Heights-K-12 charter school
Kestrel Heights is a K-12 charter school located in South Durham off of Alston Ave. The Kestrel Heights curriculum is based on the Paideia method of instruction which divides instructional time into the three components of seminar, didactic instruction (or lecturing or demonstration), and intellectual coaching. Like the other charter schools mentioned the students attending are responsible for the public school end of grade tests. Like Voyager Academy, students at Kestrel wear uniforms. The school itself is not located in a typical school building. It is located in a building in RTP, so their playground is small and in a fairly confined place.
Kestrel Heights has a similar lottery based admissions policy. Priority is given to siblings and children of faculty, and then other students are admitted based on a lottery. Their lottery will take place in 2014 on February 28 at 3:30pm. Their application is available online and can be emailed, faxed, or dropped off.
I advise you to take a tour of any area school you are interested in. In my experience, after touring all of these schools and my neighborhood school I happily found out that I liked my neighborhood school just as much if not more than some of these schools. Remember, all of these opinions are my own based on tours, impressions, and other information learned. I always welcome comments from people with more experience with these schools.
For more information about the controversy regarding Durham and its charter schools check out this article from the Washington Post. (I don't honestly know where I stand on the whole issue.) Make sure to read the comments as well because they express some good points about the other side of the argument: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/02/04/charter-experiment-spinning-out-of-control-in-durham-county/