Lotteries open now through January at Chatham’s four charter schools

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Registration for Chatham County’s public charter schools is open through varying dates in January, with lottery applications available online at each school.

Charter schools are “public schools of choice,” the North Carolina Dept. of Public Instruction’s website says, authorized by the State Board of Education, operated by independent nonprofit boards of directors and primarily funded through state and local tax dollars.

In recent years, more North Carolina charter schools — including those in Chatham — have set aside seats for “educationally disadvantaged” students in their often competitive admission lotteries. Charter schools have open enrollment “and cannot discriminate in admissions, associate with any religion or religious group, or charge-tuition,” the DPI website says, but waitlists to enroll typically greatly outpace the number of available seats.

In Chatham, three charter schools are open to students: Chatham Charter School, Woods Charter School and Willow Oak Montessori, with a fourth, School of the Arts for Boys Academy (SABA), opening to students next fall. Of those schools, only Chatham Charter doesn’t have a “weighted” lottery for educationally disadvantaged students.

A weighted lottery, as dictated by the state Dept. of Public Instruction’s Office of Charter Schools, gives students with various education disadvantages — economically disadvantaged students, migrant and immigrant students, students with disabilities, English learners and students experiencing homelessness — extra consideration for acceptance.

Historically, charter schools have been criticized by some as being more segregated than traditional public schools, though education experts say that’s hard to definitively say, since many charter and traditional schools alike reflect the areas they’re located in, if not the county’s overall demographics.

All weighted lotteries must be approved by the state board of education.

Here is more information on each of Chatham’s four charter schools, as well as where they stand on weighted lotteries:

Chatham Charter School

Chatham Charter, located in Siler City, is a K-12 public charter school founded as a private K-8 school in 1993 and chartered in 1996. The school has nearly 600 students.

The school will replicate its academic program through a new charter school, Central Carolina Academy, set to open next August in Lee County.

Chatham Charter’s lottery opened in September and will close at 5 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 28. A public drawing will be scheduled on campus approximately two weeks after the application period closes.

You can find more information to apply at chathamcharter.org/admissions

Willow Oak Montessori

Willow Oak is a Montessori school located in Pittsboro which utilizes the educational philosophy rooted in the research of Maria Montessori. The public K-8 school serves around 200 students.

Montessori teachers are trained to observe each child’s interests and development level and prepare the classroom so that each child is free to independently choose his or her work throughout the day. Classrooms are a mixed-age environment; each child typically stays with the same teacher for three years.

Willow Oak’s weighted lottery prioritizes economically disadvantaged students based on free and reduced lunch status at up to 40% of the available spots in a grade level — after other priorities are met (children of employees, siblings of students and students enrolled in the previous two years but left, under specific circumstances).

Registration for the lottery will remain open until 11:59 p.m. on Feb.18. The school will host open houses from 1 to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 8, and 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 6.

The lottery link is on a banner at the top of the school’s website: willowoakmontessori.org.

School of the Arts for Boys Academy (SABA)

SABA is a public charter school, to be located in Pittsboro, focused on using the arts and culturally responsive teaching to close the achievement gap and empower Black and brown boys.

As a public charter school, SABA will be open to all boys who wish to attend.

Though the school isn’t currently open, it’s on schedule to open in August 2022 and is chartered by the state to begin operation with 110 boys in 3rd-5th grade.

The school will reserve 60% of its lottery enrollment each year to students who are educationally disadvantaged.

Official enrollment for the 2022-23 school year will begin in January 2022. You can learn more about the school and its enrollment at sabacademy.org.

“We are thrilled by the enthusiastic support we are receiving in the community and look forward to being a valued educational home for those we serve,” SABA Head of School Valencia Toomer said on the school’s website.

Woods Charter School

Woods Charter, located in Chapel Hill, has about 200 students. It was founded in 1998 as a college preparatory secondary school, but has grown to include grades K-12.

Registration opened Oct. 15 and runs until Saturday, Jan. 15. The school’s lottery will take place Feb. 1.

Woods Charter implemented its weighted lottery for the first time last February, after being approved in October.

Woods Charter has a relatively incremental approach, setting aside 25% of its available slots after accounting for sibling and faculty applicants. Last year, that meant four slots in Kindergarten and one in 9th grade. Every year the lottery will also include 3rd and 5th grades, marking the grades in which school class sizes increase.

When the school began its process looking at weighted lotteries, 8.4% of Woods Charter families qualified for free and reduced lunch, based on a financial needs survey with 83% respondent rate. On average, the average free and reduced percentages from the five geographically closest traditional public schools for 2019-20 was 25.54% — with Pittsboro Elementary at the highest with 34.55% of students and Perry Harrison the lowest at 17.22%.

“Over time, we will look like a regular public school for this area in our demographic makeup,” Bryan said. “It’s a stretch goal for us. It’ll happen over time, we’ll have to be patient.”

You can find more information here.

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.

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