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A Guide to Charter Schools in the Charlotte Area

Students at Pioneer Springs Community School go through morning stretches outdoors
Students at Pioneer Springs Community School go through morning stretches. (Photo by Cody Hughes/RedefineU)

With over 141,000 K-12 students in the 184 schools in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School (CMS) district, problems are destined to exist. 

Aside from problems specific to CMS, many of the state’s traditional public schools have seen their fair share of problems, leading Gov. Cooper to declare a state of emergency for public education in North Carolina in May thanks to Republican efforts to gut it from the inside. 

While Cooper has called on residents to contact their state legislators and ask them to protect our public schools, parents inside or outside of Mecklenburg County might have any number of reasons for exploring options outside of their local public school system. 

Learn more: OPINION: Stop Calling Our Schools ‘Bad’

For families not privileged enough to pay thousands of dollars per month for private schools and not of the mindset to home-school, charter schools could be another way to go. 

Charter schools do have their opponents, who often point out that teacher certification requirements and funding structures differ for charters and that taking students from neighborhood and magnet schools only exacerbates problems in public schools. 

While yes, the funding structure is different (though charters receive the same amount of tax dollars per pupil, they are not eligible for bonds) and regulations are different (schools are run by independent boards and at least 50% of teachers are required to be certified), most charter schools exist to provide an education alternative to those found in traditional educational settings, thus meeting the educational and emotional needs of a diverse student population. 

Charter schools in North Carolina came into existence in 1996 as an approach to public school reform and, as such, Charlotte is ripe with charter school options of a wide variety. 

At the base level, charter schools operate on a state mandated lottery system and, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, “have open enrollment and cannot discriminate in admissions, associate with any religion or religious group, or charge tuition.” 

Schools are free of many of the regulations of the public school system but are held accountable through state testing. 

We are currently in the midst of charter lottery season, with most application deadlines landing between late-January and mid-March. Below is a brief rundown of some of the area’s charter schools, complete with enrollment deadlines. 

Charlotte Lab School
2045 Suttle Ave., Charlotte (K-12)

Charlotte Lab’s approach to education is encompassed by what administration calls “The Lab Way,” which centers on a whole-child focus (personalized learning and an advisory program for character education), diversity by design (mirroring the cities demographics with 40% of seats reserved for socioeconomically disadvantaged students, demonstrating that socially diverse school populations work for all students), and rigor & innovation (incorporating a reading and writing workshop approach and partial language immersion in either Spanish or Mandarin Chinese). 

Learn more: Ricky Singh Balances a Life in Art and Education

Charlotte Lab’s objective is to cultivate students who are ready to enter a global workplace in the future while focusing on where each individual student stands on a daily basis.

Application deadline: March 15 at 2 pm.
Lottery: March 19 at 11 a.m.

Pioneer Springs Community School
9232 Bob Beatty Road, ​Charlotte (K-12)

Pioneer Springs Community School (PSCS) prides itself on being the area’s only public, tuition-free nature school. Rooted in the Basic School philosophy — the pillars of which are based on community, curriculum cohesion and family/caregiver involvement — Pioneer Springs caters to those looking for an alternative to the traditional classroom while maintaining academic rigor across all grade levels, with the upper grades transitioning to a Place-Based Learning model. 

A Pioneer Springs teacher sits at a picnic table with a student
Pioneer Springs holds classes outdoors rain or shine. (Photo by Cody Hughes/RedefineU)

Each elementary grade consists of two classes, each with two teachers, and all grades K-12 are capped at 44 students. Much of the school day is spent outside, rain or shine, and rain boots are on each student’s back-to-school list. Community is central to PSCS’s structure, with annual events like the Author’s Tea and Fairy Tale Ball and Folklore Festival providing space for parents to picnic on campus with students and be fully immersed in the school’s culture. 

Utilizing schoolhouses built in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the registered historic 12-acre campus is also home to an outdoor amphitheater, pond and gardens maintained by each grade level, complete with chickens roaming throughout.

Application deadline: March 1
Lottery: March 13 at 4:30 p.m.

Community School of Davidson
565 Griffith St., Davidson (K-7)
40404 Armour St., Davidson (8-12)

One of the longest-running charter schools in North Carolina is Community School of Davidson (CSD), which has made a name for itself in the canon of area Basic Schools. As one of the highest-performing charter schools in the region, CSD has a waitlist of more than 3,000 names, enrolling 1,475 students spanning grades K-12. Unlike many others, CSD has a robust athletics program — one that aims not only to develop athletes physically but also socially and emotionally. 

As part of the “curriculum with coherence” lesson plan, students engage in EmpowerED Social Justice, which “allows students to explore American history and culture through the lens of anti-racism and social justice.” A developmentally appropriate approach is taken to technology, with a mindfulness of the negative impact of excessive screen exposure leading to limited screen use for lower-elementary students. In middle school, there is a “heavy emphasis on student ‘voice and choice’” in course selection and students enter a two-year loop with core teachers.

Application deadline: Jan. 31
Lottery: Feb. 20 at 4 p.m.

Corvian Community School
9501 David Taylor Drive, Charlotte (K-4)
4125 Johnston Oehler Road, Charlotte (5-8)
4041 Johnston Oehler Road, Charlotte (9-12)

Another school founded on the Basic School philosophy, Corvian Community School is a college prep school with focus on health and wellness. Corvian’s high school campus is designed like a college campus, with common spaces for students to gather as they prepare for life after grade school. The elementary school is focused on integrative themes incorporating the arts and creativity through each grade level’s thematic focus.

Football players wearing Corvian Community School jerseys poses on the football field after a game
Corvian Community School’s football team. (Photo courtesy of Corvian Community School)

Beginning in the 2024-’25 school year, all three schools will be on the same campus on Johnston Oehler Road. 

[Editor’s Note: Corvian’s founder, Stacey Haskell, was recently fired by its board of directors for “substantial evidence of misuse (of) funds as well as concerns over human resource matters.”]

Application deadline: Jan. 31 at 2 p.m.
Lottery: Feb. 13 at 4 p.m.

Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy
5225 77 Center Drive, Charlotte (K-8)

Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy takes a unique approach to education by focusing on highly gifted students. Citing the propensity for other schools to underserve academically high achieving students (or those with potential for high achievement), Metrolina’s approach seeks to support the intellectual, social and emotional needs of their school population while maintaining a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. 

While this school is a charter school and relies on lottery admissions, all applicants must undergo a comprehensive admissions process, which includes cognitive testing, a personal nomination and teacher nomination. 

Application deadline: Feb. 9
Lottery: March 21

United Community School
1406 Suther Road, Charlotte (K-8)

Another of Charlotte’s Basic School-based charter schools, United Community School has its focus in the arts, ensuring all students have access to varying art forms through curriculum integration. Each grade level produces art pieces, from visual to performing, to showcase what has been learned in both the classroom and off-campus experiences, including symphony and art museum visits.

Engaging lessons and hands-on learning are the foundation of core academics (literacy, math and science) with personalized instruction tailored to meet each individual student’s unique academic needs. 

Application deadline: Jan. 31 at 10 a.m.
Lottery: Jan. 31 at 2 p.m. (virtual)

Jackson Day School
1209 Little Rock Road, Charlotte (K-12)

Opened in 2009 as a private Christian school named Mountain Island Day School before converting to a public charter in 2018, Jackson Day School (JDS) is a research-based program that evolves into a project-based learning (PBL) curriculum in older grades. JDS offers a more traditional approach to schooling, including school uniforms, with an emphasis on child development and emotional learning. 

Students walking out of the main entrance of Jackson Day School smiling and laughing
Students at Jackson Day School. (Photo courtesy of Jackson Day School)

The middle school keeps a focus “on the universal values of respect, accountability, integrity, service, and excellence,” believing that “teaching these values in middle school improves student achievement, reduces behavior incidents, increases compassion and empathy, and improves overall school climate and culture.” The high school program focuses on educational and career interests from college prep to technical skills. 

Application deadline: Feb. 28
Lottery: March 1

Unity Classical Charter School
14613 Steele Creek Rd., Charlotte (K-8)

As the name suggests, Unity Classical Charter School (UCCS) subscribes to the classical method, which is steeped in the liberal arts and traces its historical roots to the times of Socrates and Aristotle. While there are, as with all public schools, the guidelines of standardized testing, UCCS strives to teach students to succeed beyond test scores and utilizes Core Knowledge and Singapore Math curricula. The school operates on a yearlong schedule and, like JDS, requires uniforms. Core values at UCCS include balanced living, service & morality, and collaboration, among others.

Applications Open: January 2024 Apply Here
Lottery: TBD

Bradford Preparatory School
2502 State Road 2469, Charlotte (K-12)

One of the goals of Bradford Preparatory School (BPS) is for students to graduate as bilingual, and teachers begin fostering this goal in kindergarten. For all grades kindergarten through graduation, BPS keeps an emphasis on health and wellness as well as brain-based teaching methods that shift as new research emerges, keeping the approach to education fluid as it best-serves students. 

College and career planning begins in 7th grade and graduation requirements are more stringent than most schools, with a standard diploma requiring 24 credits and an honors requiring 28 as compared to the statewide 22 credits. The sprawling campus educates around 1,500 students each year with an emphasis on core values that include educating the whole child and academic excellence. 

Application deadline: Feb. 10
Lottery: Feb. 13, 5 p.m.

Mallard Creek STEM Academy 
9142 Browne Road, Charlotte (K-8)

At Mallard Creek STEM Academy (MCSA), the four core disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math) are integrated into the curriculum with the hopes of empowering students to become strategic thinkers. MCSA focuses on hands-on learning with an emphasis on whole-child learning (as with many charter school philosophies) in an empowering and academically rigorous environment.

Application deadline: Jan. 31
Lottery: Feb. 5 at noon

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