SABA, new Chatham charter, opens 2022 lottery and adds 6th grade students

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PITTSBORO — School of the Arts for Boys Academy (SABA) — a new public charter school set to open next fall — will add 6th grade students to its 3rd through 5th grade school population to accommodate boys provisionally accepted in 2021 when the school still planned to open in fall 2021.

“As we continued our planning for opening in August we recognized that over 2 dozen boys had already been provisionally accepted to SABA during our accelerated recruitment period,” SABA’s founder and lead administrator Valencia Toomer said in a Dec. 23 email update. “It made sense to keep these students in the SABA family and to accommodate them in our plans.”

The decision was unanimously approved at SABA’s December school board meeting, and allows all rising 4th through 6th grade boys accepted earlier in 2021 to enroll at SABA for the 2022-23 school year.

SABA was approved by the state to operate as a public charter school last February, after submitting a justification letter to the state in January 2021 to open as a single-sex charter school. The school is the only all-boys public charter school in the state, and was formed with the goal of using the arts and culturally responsive teaching to close the achievement gap and empower Black and brown boys. When it was approved, the school planned to open on an accelerated timeline the following fall, but later was granted a “regular timeline” status, leading to its current expected August 2022 opening date.

Allyson Alston, SABA board president, said in the Dec. 23 release that adding a 6th-grade class will allow the school to expand its curriculum and potentially introduce interscholastic sports.

“We’re looking forward to all the positive developments this decision will bring,” Alston wrote.

The school will serve 116 students its first year, now distributed among four grades instead of three. Applications to enroll for the inaugural 2022-23 school year opened on SABA’s website on Monday and will remain open through April 30.

The school uses a weighted lottery for admission — meaning students with various education disadvantages are given extra weight, or consideration, for acceptance. There are no fees to attend, and Toomer said the school will reserve 60% of its slots for students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. In comparison to other Chatham charter schools, Willow Oak Montessori reserves 40% of the available spots in a grade level after other priorities are met for economically disadvantaged students; Woods Charter School reserves 25% of its available slots after accounting for sibling and faculty applicants.

The lottery also gives extra weight to siblings of those accepted. Students, apart from those already previously accepted in 2021, will be randomly selected via a computer-generated technology at the lottery’s April 30 conclusion.

All boys can attend SABA, but the school will be specifically structured to serve boys of color by exposing students to rich and diverse culturally responsive learning opportunities. School officials say the structure and emphasis on the arts is meant to help address the achievement gap — any significant and persistent disparity in education performance — consistently found between Black and white students across the country.

In Chatham, despite a commitment to school equity by CCS in recent years, students of color — particularly brown and Black boys — are suspended at higher rates than any other group and their test scores are consistently not reaching those of their white counterparts, data from the last several years shows.

“We have to ask ourselves why is that? Why is that happening?” Mike Wiley, SABA board member and artist in residence, previously told the News + Record. “Why does it continue to happen? To be able to combat that, it is important that SABA succeed, it is important to have a SABA that particularly teaches Black and brown boys from a pedagogical standpoint that nurtures the difference in them.”

Now, seven months before SABA is set to open, is an “unbelievably exciting time” for the school, Wiley said.

“The time has come to welcome the SABA boys who will play a defining role in building the foundation of SABA in a rich, diverse, culturally responsive environment,” he said. “We will be sharing a journey of learning and discovery for as much as a full decade in some cases. We can’t wait to meet these young men and families, and to get started!”

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

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