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Cassandra Hoffman reads to her kindergarten class on Tuesday at North East Carolina Prep School.
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Telegram photo / Emma Tannenbaum

Cassandra Hoffman reads to her kindergarten class on Tuesday at North East Carolina Prep School.

New charter school touts economic impact

By Jim Holt

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TARBORO – More than halfway through the first year at the only charter school in Edgecombe County, North East Carolina Prep School officials said the up-and-coming institution is having a positive effect on the county economy.

From hiring local contractors for building renovations to creating 58 new staff positions to bringing students in from the surrounding counties, officials said the school is proving itself an economic benefit to the area.

“When they started tearing down walls to renovate (the Mary Frances Center), we had 20 individuals who were residents of Edgecombe County working on that project,” said Taro Knight, the school’s director of communication and outreach. “Not only that, but we’ve created more than 50 jobs here that didn’t exist before.”

Knight said one of the potential downsides of having a “beautiful campus” at the former Mary Frances Center is that many people driving by on the roads might think the charter school is actually a private school.

“That is the first misconception we have to clear up. It costs parents not one dime to send their kids here,” Knight said.

Attracting students to the school from outside the county is also beneficial because those parents spend money at local businesses, Knight said.

“Speaking not only as an administrator at the charter school but also as a (Tarboro) 
councilman, you can never underestimate the impact of drawing people in from outside the county,” Knight said. “They get gas here in Tarboro. After the kids get out of school, they eat lunch here. Every penny that is pumped into the local economy helps.”

The charter school also was voluntarily annexed into Tarboro last week at a council meeting, Knight said, which in the long run could spur future economic development in the areas near the school.

Out of the 403 students enrolled in the school, Knight said 402 already have submitted letters to the school stipulating they intend to re-enroll for the 2013-14 year.

“I think North East Carolina Prep is going to attract people to move to the area. Many of my teachers are looking at houses here now,” said John Westberg, the school’s executive director. “We will see a sustained type of growth, because we’re probably going to have construction projects going on for the next five years.”

In regard to the 99 percent of parents and students choosing to re-enroll for next year, Westberg said it is simply about “choice.”

“We provide a learning environment that is different than others, and parents have come to like and understand what we’re doing here,” Westberg said. “We are very proud of what we’ve done.”

North East Carolina Prep will be adding at least 30 more staff members by the start of next year to serve the growing student population, Westberg said.

The school’s media center also received a $10,000 donation for shelving from Dr. Donald Edmondson and Dr. Mary Edmondson from Raleigh as well as a $38,000 donation from another individual to help bolster technology use at the school.

The charter school currently is accepting applications for the 2013-14 year. Although the due date is March 31, Knight said the date is arbitrary and the school will continue to accept applications and admit students until the 860-student goal is reached.

Out of the school’s 403 students, 344 are from Edgecombe County while the remaining students come from Halifax, Nash, Pitt and Wilson counties.

If the school receives more applications than there are slots available, a public lottery will be held for those grades necessary shortly after the application deadline.

The school will continue to add a high school grade each consecutive year until the school serves students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

For more information on the school, visit necprepschool.com.