Families learn if kids won spot in 2nd Johnston County charter school

CLAYTON, N.C. (WNCN) — Dozens of Johnston County families packed the Gateway Conference Center in Clayton Monday night to find if they won a lottery.

Johnston Charter Academy administrators randomly selected the names of its first 600 students from 1,251 applications. The kindergarten through seventh-grade academy will open this fall in Clayton as the second charter school in Johnston County,

Neuse Charter School in Smithfield opened in 2007. It offers classes for students through 12th grade.

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Johnston Charter Academy will add eighth grade in 2019 but Principal Kerry Chisnall said there are no plans to expand to a high school.

Chisnall previously served as principal of public high schools in Durham and Cary, but is eager to lead a charter school.

“Having worked with traditional public schools, I’ve been nothing but impressed with the transition and certainly the opportunity to open a school. We’re an alternative for Clayton and the surrounding communities,” Chisnall said.

“Charter schools tend to be out of the box, they tend to be creative, they have a little bit of flexibility in how they’re run and how they’re managed and what they can do. Class sizes as well, and sometimes programs offered also,” Chisnall added.

Eddie Price, the deputy superintendent for Johnston County Public Schools, said he does not feel slighted at all if parents want to enroll their students at Johnston Charter Academy rather than in one of the public schools.

He said there was initially a divide between the county and Neuse Charter School when it opened across the street from Smithfield-Selma High School. However, Price said there began to be more communication between the two schools, and they started to play each other in sports and improved their relationship.

“As a parent, it gives you another option, and I would hope that regardless of whether it’s private, charter, public schools, that we work together, we collaborate and communicate to find out how best to serve kids,” Price said.

“A new charter doesn’t mean that public school is broken. That is certainly not what that means. We serve 36,000 kids who are successful, so I would say we are pretty successful in what we do. I just think that people are appreciative of options, as am I.”

Chisnall said he sees the new charter school as competition for the public schools. He believes their coexistence will make both schools better.

“I think we force them to up their game,” Chisnall said.

“Local school districts tend to analyze what charter schools are doing, what they’re doing well, what they can do better, and respond to that. I think that we will have a positive impact on the local schools. They’ll be able to feed off of some of what we’re doing, and their interest in what we’re doing, and maybe evolve accordingly.” Chisnall added.

Admissions manager Carol Longoria said the school will gradually expand from 600 students to 750. The selection of the first class picked household families rather than individual students, in an attempt to keep siblings together.

However, if a family with a first grader and a third grader came up in the draw after all of the third-grade spots were assigned, the older student would go on a wait list while the younger would have a seat in their respective class.

“We don’t differentiate between gender, race, ethnicity, or background, so this enables to have a blind lottery as we pull those students, so it’s equal to anyone in Wake or Johnston County,” Longoria said.

Any student in the state of North Carolina is eligible to apply, but Clayton’s location drew applications from the two bordering counties. Longoria was eager to see future students in attendance Tuesday night and finally welcome them to Johnston Charter Academy.

“It is really exciting to see people scream with excitement that their child got in, and we’ve been known to get hugs because families are really excited to learn that their children have been accepted,” Longoria said.

The campus is still under construction with an expected completion date of sometime this summer.

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