1,000 residents petition against opening Wake Prep Academy charter school in Wake Forest

Planning board postpones their decision citing too much information and too little time to process it

Protestors came together before the public hearing to show their concerns about the proposed charter school. Charlotte Purnell, Leslie Fielding-Russell, Jen Rudolph, Michelle Tomlinson and Melinda Shail are pictured left to right with their children.
PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED

By JAY LAMM | editor@wsj30.com


After hours of hearing the pros and cons of building a new charter school in Wake Forest, the Planning Board put off a vote until its next meeting. 

“We just got this information on Tuesday (Sept. 1). It’s just too much information to process on two days,” said Planning Board member Karin Kuropas at Thursday night’s (Sept. 3) joint meeting and public hearing with the Wake Forest Board of Commissioners. 

During the meeting representatives of Charter One, its legal team and experts presented its case to build Wake Prep Academy on Harris Road, across from Joyner Park. The school would enroll about 1,600 students in grades K thru 12. 

Plans discussed were site detail, traffic patterns, lighting of parking lots and athletic fields, impact on surrounding property values and busing. 

Chapter One operates charter schools in other areas around the country. The company has one charter school in North Carolina in Mecklenburg County. 

Once Chapter One finished its two-and-a-half hour presentation, the public was allowed to speak. 

Two members of Wake Prep Academy’s board of directors briefly supported the new school. 

Wake Forest resident Michelle Tomlinson, with a petition to the Planning Board signed by 1,000 concerned citizens against the school, addressed the joint board meeting, which was a quasi-judicial hearing in which comments were considered testimony and stated in a legal capacity. 

“The developer proposed here is Schoolhouse Dev East, which is owned by a man named Glenn Way out of Arizona,” said Tomlinson. “Mr. Way has a lot of bad press surrounding him due to the fact he also owns the charter management company, Charter One (which) profits largely off of the public funding that goes to both of his companies through charter schools. Wake Prep is proposing to pay Glenn Way and his two companies $5.6M per year of our tax dollars as well as taking a grand total of $17M out of our public schools. This is stripping our schools and community of funding and students puts loved and much needed programs within our schools at a very great risk.”

Tomlinson said she represented tax paying citizens who take pride in having excellent public schools. 

“This is not an attack on school choice, but we need to stand up to these giants and say enough is enough,” she said.

Jen Rudolph, with protest sign in hand, said she is worried about too many charter schools being allowed in the area. 

“Allowing Wake Forest to be overly saturated with charters which will drain funding for programs like these is a travesty,” Rudolph said. 

“Our public schools are under attack and in danger of being sucked dry, segregated, and even closed down. Location and need matters. Please don’t allow Wake Prep Academy to negatively impact our community and vote against this proposed location,” she said.

Charlotte Purcell, a school counselor at Wake Forest Middle School, said she is concerned charter schools will bring back segregation in schools. 

“We have been fighting segregation in schools for decades. A school like this will promote segregation,” said Purcell. “When parents visit Wake Forest Middle School, they comment on how diversified our school is. They won’t be able to say that about Wake Prep. Charter schools do not promote diversity.”

A representative of Charter One disagreed.

“The kids come from poor areas and high-end areas. They come together as one,” said Mitchell Swab, Southeastern Division vice president of Chapter One. 

He said 6,500 students have already expressed interest in the school and said 35 percent would be from low economic status. 

Chapter One plans on having Wake Prep open in one year if it receives the Planning Board and Board of Commissioners’ approvals. 

The Planning Board’s next meeting is Oct. 6.

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