NC Academies Offer Model for Success

Published February 4, 2010

There’s no one way to educate children, say the people running Franklin Schools and Thales Schools in North Carolina.

These schools, both founded by Bob Luddy, president of a kitchen ventilation system manufacturing company called CaptiveAire, employ a method of teaching called Direct Instruction (DI). This employs repetition and regular assessment, and students progress to other lessons only when they have mastered the one at hand, ensuring there are no gaps in their education.

Franklin Academy was one of North Carolina’s first charter schools, established in 1998 to provide an educational option for parents with children in struggling public schools, says Dan Henson, director of special projects at the academies. In 2007 Luddy followed up by opening the first Thales Academy on a campus in North Raleigh, then moving to a much larger facility in Wake Forest for its second year. Yet another Thales Academy opened in Apex, North Carolina, in 2008.

“Mr. Luddy saw the need for educational reform,” Henson said. “He wanted to give parents alternative routes for seeking a quality education.”

High Demand

While the Franklin Schools and Thales Schools share the same founder, “they have different funding sources and different administrative leadership,” Henson said. “Franklin Academy operates as a public charter school; Thales operates as an affordable private school. They are distinctly different schools that operate using the shared methods and similar objectives. They have the same founder but work independently of each other.”

Franklin Academy uses two sites—one serving K-5 students and the other those in grades six through 12. A third site, slated to serve students in grades 9-12, was awaiting permit approval at press time. Both Thales Academies are currently K-6 schools, but Luddy plans to expand to them to K-12. All the schools are in high demand.

“The Franklin Academy has approximately 1,200 students enrolled, with a waiting list of 2,000,” Henson said. “Thales Wake Forest, which began three years ago with 30 students, now has 300 students and a waiting list. Thales Apex, which began two years ago with 60 students, now has 200 students.”

‘More Time Spent Learning’

Admittance procedures vary across the schools.

“Due to the fact that Franklin Academy is a public charter school, the school cannot legally give preference to one candidate over another and therefore does not control admittance into the school,” Henson said.

Families complete applications, which are placed into a lottery. Each year there are a certain number of vacancies at each grade level. Applicants who have siblings previously admitted into the school are admitted if there are vacancies at the specific grade level; after that, names are picked randomly through the lottery system until all the vacancies are filled, Henson explained. Thales, a private school charging $5,000 in annual tuition, admits students on a first-come, first-served basis. Enrollment is based on a completed application and a successful placement interview.

“The model and implementation are what set the schools apart from conventional schools,” Henson said. “More time is spent learning in our schools than in conventional schools. This is achieved through more effective classroom management techniques, through effective curriculums that minimize distractions and tangents, and through maintaining high expectations for our students. The use of Direct Instruction K-5 is essential to laying the groundwork for effective classroom management and efficiency.”

Differences from Public Schools

A few other things also set the academies apart from traditional government schools.

Kent Misegades, director of Thales Academy explained, “The teacher to administrator ratio is very high compared to government schools. Nearly every adult is in the classroom. The government schools have a ratio of one administrator for every 2.5 to three teachers, whereas our schools have one administrator to every 10 teachers.

“Our teachers are not tenured; they receive a one-year contract only,” Misegades added, “another reason for their high motivation to reach excellence.”

The schools use the Iowa Test of Basic Skills to measure students’ progress and teachers’ efficacy.

“In North Carolina, where homegrown tests of a very low standard are used, and teachers are not tested in this manner, this is a major positive aspect of our schools,” Misegades said. “Since the Iowa tests are nationally normed, parents and teachers know how well each and every student is progressing against their peers in the same class, school, county, state, and even compared to other countries. This is not possible in our state’s government schools.

“We are achieving remarkable results here at a fraction of the cost of our local government schools,” Misegades concluded. “Our model should work equally well in any community, in particular in poor ones where families lack structure and the income for more expensive schools.”

Henson agrees.

“Thales was created to be a model school,” he said. “As the school develops, there are plans to widely distribute the model so that it may be implemented by other schools. The superior academic results coupled with affordability would make the Thales model an academically and fiscally sensible option for any school that is seeking to improve.”

Sarah McIntosh ([email protected]) teaches constitutional law and American politics at Wichita State University in Kansas.