Harnett charter school aims for Ivy League

Jan. 16, 2014 @ 05:00 AM

A new area charter school will seek to prepare students, through highly rigorous instruction, to be viable candidates for the Ivy League and other prestigious universities starting next school year.

The catch? It’s for students in grades K-5.

“Our goal is to begin to train students to be credible applicants to the finest colleges and universities,” David Levinson, chairman of the board of directors for the newly approved Anderson Creek Club Charter School (ACCCS), said. “And it has to start in kindergarten.”

Levinson is also president of the company that developed Anderson Creek Club, an exclusive golf community in Harnett County just outside Fort Bragg. The school hasn’t been built yet — the state only approved it last week — but Levinson said it will be located on a 12-acre site just across the street from the neighborhood’s main entrance along Ray Road.

Unlike the gated community of the same name, however, the school is open to anyone.

Charter schools are public schools: They’re funded by taxpayers, have no tuition and are accountable to the state. They differ from traditional public schools, though, in that they have less stringent regulations and bureaucracy, and there are no districts. Students from Lee County could apply, for example, even though it’s in Harnett County.

Levinson said he went to a prestigious boarding school and went on to earn “several degrees” from Harvard University. He said he still thinks private school is the best way to get to a school like Harvard. Yet he also realizes not everyone can go to private school, hence his goal of trying to create an elite private school atmosphere in a free, accessible public school.

The application the school submitted to the state goes into some explanation of that philosophy.

“The distinction between [Harnett County Schools] and ACCCS is the general approach to instruction by teachers,” the application stated. “The [school district’s] rigid adherence to an instructional program with limited flexibility for teachers to adjust for individual student needs is problematic. ACCCS, on the other hand, provides greater teacher flexibility to meet student needs. Smaller class sizes at ACCCS will also help teachers have a greater ability to address individual student needs.”

Increased flexibility in school choice has been a hot topic of late. The General Assembly recently approved a voucher program to let low-income children attend private schools, citing increased choice, and charter schools have grown steadily in number in recent years.

Lee County doesn’t have a charter school, but the local school district has been exploring the idea of magnet schools at the elementary level. They could be on year-round calendars, like the highly popular Tramway Elementary School, or have a specific focus on something like the arts, or math and science.

Lee County Board of Education members Tamara Brogan and Linda Smith, among others, have been researching the possibility of another local magnet school. Brogan told The Herald last year that “if children are excited about something ... then they’re more likely to engage in the learning process and work harder at it. And that’s what we want.”

Anderson Creek charter, according to Levinson, will have a typical elementary school curriculum, as well as after-school programs teaching computer skills, Chinese, Spanish, art history and more. And guest lecturers will explain careers like accountant, lawyer and doctor to the youngsters, making sure they understand what such careers entail but also understand that they’re attainable.

The key to success, Levinson added, will be rigor along with individualized attention. With a target of of 180 students and 13 teachers at the school, class sizes would be about half the average for traditional public schools in the area. Levinson also said that for all the focus on being like a private school, there won’t be any weeding out as often happens at private schools.

“If you have to take, in a lottery, whoever applies, you have a much greater challenge,” he said. “And we’re ready to take that challenge.”

The application for the school is even more explicit on that point, claiming the school will will aim to mirror the demographics of the 20,000-student Harnett County public school system, which is 52 percent white, 25 percent black and the rest Hispanic and other racial groups.

It will also reportedly “target a mix of under-served, highly motivated and academically gifted students, at-risk students, average students, handicapped students, and English Language Learners seeking to participate in a rigorous and academically challenging experience.”