Published: Jun 12, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Jun 12, 2012 07:09 PM
Lee Charter School hits delay
Planned opening this summer put off until 2013
CHAPEL HILL - A new charter school approved in Chapel Hill will not open next year as planned.The Howard and Lillian Lee Scholars Charter school won a fast-track approval from the state in March to open in Chapel Hill in August, but the process of getting its land and building permits hasn’t moved quite so quickly. The school will delay its opening until 2013, according to a letter from Doris Jackson, president of the school’s board of directors. “We are frustrated by this delay, not only as a governing board, but also as community leaders who desire to create a quality, public charter school,” Jackson said in the letter. “Though our facility efforts have been delayed our commitment to the children and families of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area have not wavered; we are still very excited about the opportunity to serve them.”The school, which is owned and managed by the National Heritage Academies, a for-profit charter school company based in Michigan, has agreed to buy land to build a new school on seven acres in the eastern part of the Claremont South Development on Homestead Road in Carrboro, said Joe DiBenedetto, spokesman for National Heritage Academies. National Heritage Academies and developer Parker Louis, LLC intend to seek a Conditional Use Permit from the Town of Carrboro to rezone the property, DiBenedetto said.Omar Zinn, President of Parker Louis, LLC, recently informed the residents of Claremont of the purchase agreement and presented conceptual site plan that will be submitted to the Town of Carrboro, DiBenedetto saidThe plan shows 28,000 square feet of commercial space, approximately 80 townhomes, and a two story school building. This development would include a soccer field, playground, and a gymnasium. If Carrboro approves the school’s permit, school officials said they expect that would happen around January 2013, which would give NHA enough time to build the school and have it open by later that year, Jackson said.The school is named for Howard Lee, the first black mayor of Chapel Hill and a former chairman of the State Board of Education. His daughter, Angela Lee, submitted the application to the state earlier this year. She did not respond to requests for comment on the school’s delay.The Lee school will target minority students and focus on closing the achievement gap and a college prep curriculum. It will initially open as an elementary school then expand to serve students through eighth grade, according to its charter application.The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools opposed the charter school, along with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, because it would not offer free lunches or school transportation for students and would take about $4.3 million away from the public school system.Tamara Thomas will be the school’s founding principal, Jackson said in her letter to the state. She taught for several years in New York City and has worked for several public charter schools in North Carolina, Jackson said in the letter. Since the school’s opening is delayed, its charter will have to be re-approved by the state, said Joel Medley, director of the state Office of Charter Schools.The school’s application was approved by the subcommittee of the Charter School Advisory Council and is now scheduled for review by the full Council, which is scheduled to meet later this month, DiBenedetto said.