With a website and letterhead emblazoned with the words, ‘Dare to Soar,’ the directors of a new school set out two years ago on a daring attempt that they believe will provide a unique opportunity for children in Cleveland County to soar to their greatest capabilities. As a result of those efforts, when Cleveland County children start to school in August, many will start in a new school. Pinnacle Classical Academy, a college preparatory charter school, expects to be granted an operational charter next month. Pinnacle will open with 305 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, and add a grade each year through 12th. The first graduation will be held in June, 2020.
Pinnacle, like all other charter schools, is a public school, chartered to operate directly by the NC Department of Public Instruction. As a result, charter schools have more options, more freedom with curriculum, often requiring uniforms, summer reading programs, and require more parental involvement than the traditional public schools. Charter schools are sometimes mistaken as private schools, or in competition with the public schools. As traditional public schools, charters must meet the same basic requirements as set forth by the Department of Public Instruction; they are tuition free, and any student in North Carolina can attend. The primary difference between charters and the traditional schools is that that charter schools receive no public monies for buildings, and the local school board has no oversight of the charter; a charter school is governed by the body that receives the charter.
Pinnacle Classical Academy will be governed by its founding board, chaired by former NC Senator Debbie Clary. “We were responding to a self-evident need,” she said when asked about why she decided to start a charter school in Cleveland County. Clary went on to say, “Currently, there are around 600 young people that leave Cleveland County each day to attend a charter, with 200 more on waiting lists. We want to provide a local choice and opportunity for our children and parents.”
Opening in August, Pinnacle will be located for its first two years in the current Hallelujah Acres building on South Post Road. The location is central to Cleveland County and will better serve children from any corner of the community. “The building was the former Ambassador Baptist College and prior to that a private school,” Clary said. “That property was originally built with 12 classrooms and a central gym, so it will be a perfect two-year home.”
In December, the County Commission voted unanimously to purchase 56 acres a short distance away, on Joe’s Lake Road to give to the school when the charter is received. This property will become the permanent campus for the school. The commissioner’s action not only reduced the taxpayer’s liability on the property, but opens the way for 60 permanent full time jobs, in addition to 15 part-time jobs as well as locally contracted ancillary services. “We are pleased with the public support of the school, and the commissioner’s action for property on which we can make our permanent home. Our plan is to open there in 2015,” stated Clary.
Unlike traditional public schools, Pinnacle receives no state funding for buildings, so the board faces the challenge of financing and raising the necessary funds for the $10 million that may be required to finish the campus. “We are currently working on a master plan for the campus, and are quite excited,” Clary explained.
Currently, Pinnacle can receive no applications from students. “According to the Department of Public Instruction, we can not take applications until the charter is actually granted, so we will move quickly in March,” Clary stated. Pinnacle is allowed to take letters of intent. Each parent who fills out a letter of intent will be contacted as soon as applications are available. In the even that more than 300 students apply, Pinnacle will conduct a lottery to determine who gets in. “The lottery is mandated by the state, and ensures that every student has an opportunity to attend,” said Clary, “Our plan is to receive applications during March, with a lottery in April.”
Pinnacle plans to offer transportation from several pick-up locations throughout the county, and work with local vendors to provide a nutritious lunch. “We don’t want to be a restaurant, we don’t want to be a bus service,” said Clary, “It is our intent to contract locally for these services as much as possible; we want to focus on offering the best college prep education and teaching our students logic and reasoning in all of their educational endeavors.”
The Pinnacle Board is currently speaking to groups across the county, seeking letters of intent from interested parents, finalizing renovation plans for the current Hallelujah Acres building, which will begin as soon as the charter is received, as well as working on the master plan for the new campus. “It’s a very busy time, and will be for quite a while, but it is exciting and worthwhile work,” Clary said. “We’ve held town halls in churches, day-cares; we have spoken to civic clubs and professional organizations. We’ll go anywhere we are asked to go. We want everyone who may be interested to have the information they need and appreciate offers to volunteer,” she went on to say.