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Posted Jan. 25, 2009

Planting a new, private Christian school in west CharlottE

Excerpts from a presentation on Nov. 13, 2007 on the Regent Schools of the Carolinas. Speakers were longtime Charlotte Housing Authority executive John Crawford; the Rev. Marty McCarthy, rector of St. John's Episcopal Church; and Nick Gennett, former vice president of Central Piedmont Community College.

Crawford, who was a member of the founding board of the Trinity Episcopal school downtown, said, "We are planning to build an even better school in west Charlotte.

"I want children in west Charlotte to have the same opportunities that children anywhere in this community have."

"The history of education in the Western world comes from two places," said McCarthy. "From Athens we get scientific principles, universal law and the process of reason. From Jerusalem we get knowledge of the heart. If you keep the learning of the head in context of the values of the heart, you shape the ability to reason morally, and you build character. You take this piece out, and character is gone, and all you're doing then, if you will, is filling kids' heads with information....

"Christian classical education endeavors to teach a child how to think. This movement was started... about 25 years ago in deference to an article written probablly 40 or 50 years ago by Dorothy Sayers.... She described the descent of education from a classical norm to the functional, traIning mode that it is in now today....

"A few years ago a researcher was testing these [Christian classical] schools to see how they were doing. He found out the average SAT score at that school was in the 96th percentile in the nation. Another school like the Regents School in Austin, Texas, the 8th-grade class took the SATs. They beat the national average of 12th-graders by 44 points....

"Trinity will take kids in the door that test at the 40th percentile, not the 90th percentile. Most private schools in this town want kids that test in the 90th percentile, then they'll guarantee to push them out at the end of that school experience still testing at the 90th percentile.
"Trinity takes kids in because we have a mission of ministry to education. The kids that were at the 40th percentile are at the 90th percentile in a year or two. They go wherever they want.... At Trinity, 25% of the student body is scholarshipped. We wish we had more money to scholarship more children.

"In the course of working on education I then started a second school, Pallisades Episcopal School, which opened near Lake Wylie. There's a whole reason why we started there. It's a long story, and it's a story full of God moments. It's a story full of, if you will, the hand of God making things happen that would not otherwise have happened.

"In the course of raising money for that, I went to a very significant leader in this town and said, 'I need help. I need your money to help build that school.' And he said to me, 'Marty, you seem to be -- he didn't use the word hellbent but he said essentially, 'you seem hellbent to build schools.' I said, 'I am. Children need better education than we're giving them. Children need to have their spirits lifted and their minds opened....' And he said, 'What are you going to do after you open Palisades Episcopal School?' I said, 'Actually, I have a group of parishioners who want me to start one in the Matthews area. And then I believe we should build one in west Charlotte.'

"And he said, 'If you go to west Charlotte next I'll raise all the money.' That changed my priorities (laughter).
"I have gone back to him, and he said, 'I was a little exuberant about what you are doing. I can't raise all your money but I'll be a significant player.' And I said, 'So long as you'll be a significant player we'll get the job done."

"It's our intention to start with a preschool and family development center to lead into a K-5, then 6-8 and God willing a high school. But this will be a school that is the high water mark of education.

"I would tell you already Trinity is already the high watermark of education. You look at kids there and they go anywhere they want academically, and they have character. Their values have been formed by the values of the Kingdom...."

In these excerpts from the question-and-answer session, all questions were answered by McCarthy. Questions have been paraphrased for brevity.

Q Will you seek partnerships?

A "We will start the first school, the preschool and family development center, at Redeemer Lutheran Church [Ashley Road]. I would tell you that's the most diverse church in west Charlotte.... We're working with another church on the prospects of putting the K-5 there and looking for other partners where we might put the following school. These are all out over the years."


Q Why focus on a new group of schools rather than putting that energy into public school reform?

A "Learning in this world come from two places. I cannot bring Jerusalem into the public schools. I can bring it into a private school. I personally do not like the private schools. I was a product of public schools. I do not like private schools because it suggests elitism. And that has no use to me. But it's the only way I can bring Christian faith values into the life of the school, so I have to go that way."


Q Will the teachers have to have additional credentials?

A "The need beyond the standard credentialing -- a baccalaureate degree, etc. -- is going to be a commitment to and willingness to support the mission. Because the mission of Regents Schools is going to drive the nature of the curriculum. If the focus is on research and investigation for children to learn how to think, rather than memorizing data, that's going to require, obviously, a teacher with that...."


Q Where in west Charlotte will you be?

A "Our first location will be at Ashley Drive, just off Wilkinson near the Wal-Mart Supercenter. And, God willing, our second location will come in Wilkinson right at the corner of Remount and Wilkinson. And beyond that, it depends on what kinds of partnerships ... it's important for us to develop those partnerships and hopefully people will trust enough that we can develop those partnerships."


Q What would be the costs, because many westside children are in public school out of economic necessity.

A "Our expectation is that we will have to drive the cost point ... down by endowment dollars... A couple of Charlotte's largest benefactors have essentially said, show us this economic model and we'll get behind you."



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