Charter school at crossroads

Hazel Mack
Hazel Mack

Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — In the mid-1990s, when her daughter was in fourth and fifth grade, Hazel Mack schooled her at home, taking two years off from her law career.

And in 1996, when state lawmakers passed a law to allow the creation of charter schools, Mack helped found the Carter G. Woodson K-12 Charter School.

“I do not have any harsh criticism for our traditional public schools,” says Mack, regional managing attorney in the Triad for Legal Aid of North Carolina and a graduate of Anderson High School, Winston-Salem State University and the law school at Temple University in Philadelphia.

“We’re not flexible enough” in the public schools, she says. “We have smaller classes so we can have the flexibility to deal with children with different learning needs.”

Now, with the state lawmakers this year removing a cap of 100 that the 1996 law had set on the number of charter schools permitted in the state, Woodson Charter School is trying to decide to whether to continue to increase its enrollment or keep it at its current level.

Named for a former slave who became a prominent black historian, the school operates with an annual budget of $3.6 million, 460 students and 53 faculty and staff.

It receives $2.1 million in state revenue and nearly $901,000 in local revenue based on a per-pupil allocation distributed to public schools and charter schools, as well as $500,000 in federal funds based on student needs and to provide lunch for free or at a reduced price.

The school, with African Americans accounting for roughly 55 percent of the students and Hispanics accounting for roughly 45 percent, raises over $101,000 a year, mainly from foundations and corporations, Mack says.

Occupying two buildings plus modular units on a 33-acre site at 437 Goldfloss St. in southeast Winston-Salem, the school carries a debt of nearly $3 million, including the cost of purchasing a former office building and constructing a second building.

According to the school’s long-range plan, one-third of the site is available for expansion of the school, with the remainder to be used for mixed-use development that would generate earned income to support the school, says Mack.

She says the school tries to tailor its programs to the different ways that individual students learn, and to get parents involved in their kids’ education.

Each day, for example, the first period focuses on the priority learning needs of each student.

And once a month, parents are invited to special events, such as an “intergenerational day” at which students could interact with senior citizens, or a “poetry café” at which students will recite poems they have written.

And that approach seems to be make a difference, Mack says.

In the most recent school year, every member of the senior class graduated and was accepted into at least two colleges.

“Often the needs of children and the population we serve are going to be different from middle-class families,” Mack says.

Many parents of students at the school work long hour in low-paying jobs, may have less education than other parents, and may not have the time or may not “be equipped to help their children through school,” she says.,

“We structure our program,” she says, “around the needs of our children.”

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