UIS transitions to becoming a charter school

By Jennifer Kim
UNC Staff Writer
the Durham Voice

The staff at Union Independent School, located at 116 E. Corporation St., is preparing for a busy school year as UIS transitions from private to charter school status.

UIS applied to become a charter school in February.  In July, out of 17 schools in North Carolina, UIS was the only one chosen for provisional charter school status, said UIS Project Director, Charles Stanback.  He said this means they must engage in training, classes and inspections until this spring with charter school status starting next school year.

UIS Counselor Beverly Hester-Stephens poses with a poster titled “Girls Rock!” created by a group of girls during a self-esteem enrichment class. (Staff photo by Jennifer Kim)

“It gives us a more sure financial base in this economy to be able to offer free tuition,” said Head of School, Troy Weaver. “To be able to have a surer base to take care of our annual budget puts us in a little bit more breathing room in terms of assuring the type of programming that we wish to deliver to each of our families and students.”

Weaver said the charter school money from the state would cover approximately half of the operating costs of UIS.   Stanback said the decision to become a charter school depended mostly on funding.

Stanback said next year as a charter school, UIS will send reports to the government, but the students won’t notice the difference in the classroom.  He said new state testing requirements will not affect the process of learning at UIS.

“We were planning on being as good as or better than any school anyhow,” Stanback said.  “That part hasn’t changed.”

Charter schools must meet government regulations in test scores, but Stanback said this would be a positive change because UIS could set an example for schools in the area and nationwide.

“With a state run operation then you’ve got all the checks and balances in place,” Weaver said.  And you have an outside entity that is ensuring that you are maintaining your compliance.”

Stanback said government reports would show other schools how to be more successful. He said they could implement some of the same strategies at UIS such as incorporating technology and hiring only National Board Certified teachers.

He said part of the innovation at UIS is the collective involvement of all parties responsible for each student.  Parents take part by being required to volunteer three hours a month.

“Parents can see first-hand what’s going on in the school and take part ownership,” said UIS Counselor Beverly Hester-Stephens.

She said parents can choose to volunteer from several different areas at UIS where they feel they can contribute the most.

“Actually having the parents come into the school sends a message to the child that, ‘I value what’s being done here, it’s important enough to be that I’m going to come in and partner with the school to ensure that you’re successful,’” Hester-Stephens said.

Stanback said parents should visit their children’s school for positive reasons such as volunteering opportunities, classes and meetings that help create a better learning experience for their children.

“We want to do things here at Union Independent School that will encourage parents to come here,” Stanback said.  “I think back when I was in school and the only reason the parents came to school was because you did something bad.  And to a great extent, that’s still the case today.”

Hester-Stephens said character building is a unique part of the school day at UIS and is incorporated directly into class time.  Students learn everything in the state curriculum in addition to education such as single gender group time where they build self-esteem.

“The kind of things we’re trying to do here I think are significant and will impact the community and the larger Durham area as well,” Hester-Stephens said.

She said her primary role with the new provisional charter status will be to explain to parents and teachers how this change will affect them.  She said she wants to help with this transition by opening communication with parents and being a resource and advocate for them.

A few weeks ago, she watched as a group of female students worked as a team to create posters reflecting positive thoughts and comments.  At first, the girls disagreed over the group name and details.  However later in class, Hester-Stephens said she watched as one student stood up for another when the group was picking on her.