Perhaps only the parents of highly gifted children can attest to the frustrations of educating them. These students learn at a radically different speed from their age-level counterparts (one and a half to four academic years’ growth in one school year). Although many public schools have pull-out programs for the gifted and talented, highly gifted students are not adequately served by this typically one-hour-a-day enrichment. Indeed, with IQs between 145 and 170, they are often unchallenged. Prone to boredom and behavioral difficulties in the classroom, they are arguably the students most ill-served by the traditional public school system.
Enter a group of Charlotte, North Carolina, parents intent on designing a school able to meet the unique needs of their exceptional children. Throw in some influential North Carolinians in the field of gifted education who are intrigued by this idea, and the vision becomes clear: a public charter school whose primary purpose is to educate highly gifted children.
The Metrolina Regional Scholars’ Academy opened in September 2000 committed, as its mission states, “to meet the distinctive intellectual, social, and emotional needs of our students.” Small ability-grouped classes, interesting and challenging schoolwork, devotion to excellence, and an active partnership between educators and parents have made for a favorable start. Dr. Marie Peine, director since June 2001, cites the school’s “energetic, intelligent, and committed staff of exemplary teachers” as the key to the school’s early success. Peine works with the staff to develop and hone the curriculum to respond to the students’ needs.
Metrolina’s highest hurdle remains housing for the growing academy. Charter schools, which typically lack the capital backing enjoyed by large school systems, often endure a nomadic existence in their formative years, moving often and spending a disproportionate amount of their budget on rent. Metrolina is no exception; it outgrew its original facility, formerly a Montessori school, in just the second year of operation. Further, as Peine points out, a charter school has “no local support system, i.e., maintenance department, curriculum director, attendance supervisor, testing coordinator who can provide services for the school. Basically the director either does these things or delegates them to parents.”
Metrolina has a board of directors consisting of six parents and three others from the Charlotte community. These board members and other volunteers work countless hours at the school, pioneering the field of highly gifted public charter schools. Currently, they are scouting out affordable commercial space to temporarily house the school’s expanding student population. With classes in the 14–20- pupil range planned for grades K–8, Metrolina anticipates full enrollment in three years. Its five-year objective is to build its own school; a newly formed investment group is considering lots in the local area.
What advice does Peine offer parents who would like to start a charter school similar to Metrolina? They should “get their vision in writing, then recruit educators, parents, and administrators from like schools to provide advice.” There are three public charter schools for the highly gifted in the United States; visiting them and studying their charters is essential to under standing how they are run. Although these schools have the same purpose, they have distinct styles.
Susan Ludwig is a teacher and freelance writer who holds an M.A. in educational leadership, with an emphasis in exceptional student education, from Florida Atlantic University.