Sitting Down with Helen Nance
The Public Charter School Advisory Board works to ensure the existence of high-quality public charter schools in North Carolina. The Board’s duties include: reviewing public charter school applications and making recommendations to the State Board of Education (SBE) on final approval, actions of renewals, non-renewals and revocations of public charters; the adoption of rules regarding all aspects of public charter school operations, standards, criteria for acceptance and approval of applications, monitoring charter schools, and grounds for revocation. Helen Nance, Chair of the North Carolina Public Charter School Advisory Board, discussed the importance of high-quality public charter schools and their impact on public education.
Why did you decide to accept the appointment to the North Carolina Public Charter School Advisory Board?
I am fortunate to have served as a charter application author, a founding board member and director of a North Carolina public charter school. When asked to serve as the Charter School Advisory Board chairman, I felt that my diverse background, both in working with my charter school and in many positions in traditional public schools, would provide me with the experience to be of service in this leadership position.
Tell us about Gray Stone Day School and why you started it?
Two of my daughters went to UNC-Chapel Hill and one went to Wake Forest University. Coming from a rural area, they were not ready to compete with students from Boston, Charlotte or Atlanta in the college arena.
They were able to adjust and graduated with degrees, but it was their struggles which prompted me to write the charter application. My daughters were not able to take advantage of Gray Stone Day School but it has provided a choice for many of the students in the area.
Note: After her children went to college, she was very inspired by their frustration. Each called home after her first semester freshman year with the same complaint, “Mom, we’re not prepared for college.” Between her experiential knowledge, her husband’s idea of approaching Pfeiffer University as a location and partner, and her sheer determination, Helen wrote the 78-page application for Gray Stone Day School. The first year it was denied. And, much like her personality will show, Helen did not take “no” for an answer. She re-wrote the charter, re-submitted it, and was accepted the following year.
Gray Stone Day School is a public charter high school located next to the campus of Pfeiffer University in Stanly County and serves students from 7 different counties. It provides a rigorous curriculum with the mission to develop graduates who have integrity, are responsible and will provide service to others. The school is in their 12th year and will have the largest graduating class of 88 students. Total enrollment is 418 for grades 9-12. At this time, they have a Morehead-Cain Scholar to UNC, a Park Scholar to NC State and a Levine Scholar to UNCC. They also have three students who have graduated or are attending West Point. Graduates are attending or have attended: Princeton University, Dartmouth University, Virginia Tech, University of California at Berkley, UNC, Duke, Wake Forest and NC State. To read an overview of the school, visit www.graystoneday.org.
What role do you think public charter schools play in improving education overall?
I like that charter schools can provide a choice for students and their families, and serve as innovative models for educational opportunities. I feel that if all education providers – traditional schools, public charter schools, home schools and private schools, as well as the community colleges and the universities – would work together, we could do some amazing things. Our partnership with Pfeiffer University has afforded us some opportunities we would not normally have. Without them, Gray Stone would not be here. We needed to use some of their facilities to be able to get started and their support was invaluable.
In being an advocate for public charter schools, what are your thoughts on the overall process of public charter schools being approved?
We, the Charter School Advisory Board, are all working together with one purpose in mind. We are trying to ensure quality public charter schools in North Carolina. Each one of us has the expertise and knowledge to work toward that common goal through the application and renewal process.