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Planned new charter school in Mebane revised – and postponed until 2025

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A new charter school planned in Mebane will not open until the fall of 2025, officials in the state Office of Charter Schools have confirmed for The Alamance News.

The state Office of Charter Schools operates under the umbrella of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and is responsible for approving and overseeing the operations of charter schools in the state.

The proposed site for the new charter school consists of 15.7 acres of vacant land near the intersection of West Ten Road with Rock Quarry Road.   The site is just over the Alamance County line, on the Orange County side of Mebane and approximately 2½ miles from Gravelly Hill Middle School, which is part of the Orange County school system.

However, the plans for the new charter school have changed dramatically.

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Originally, West Triangle High School, a free public charter school planned for Mebane, would’ve offered a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)-based curriculum and intended to draw high school students from Alamance, Durham, and Orange counties, based on information submitted to and approved by the state Charter School Review Board earlier this year.

Now, the new charter school will be called Carolina Achieve, its board chairman, John Oxaal, confirmed Wednesday for The Alamance News. 

In a brief phone interview, Oxaal told the newspaper that Carolina Achieve will be a free public K-12 public charter school operated by a nonprofit organization.

Carolina Achieve is founded by Oxaal and his wife, Marjorie, who are Durham County residents, according to the charter school’s website.  Oxaal describes himself as an entrepreneur and a venture capitalist who has started and/or funded more than 15-high tech and life science-based companies, and his wife Marjorie as having had a “long career on Wall Street and in corporate appraisal” who now manages a real estate and property operations firm.  The other founder of Carolina Achieve is Tiffany Alrefae, who describes herself as having a career in charter school education leadership that has spanned 18 years and three countries.

Carolina Achieve also had been involved in an earlier iteration of the same charter school that had been proposed for 85 acres of vacant land along Lawrence Road in Hillsborough last year but failed to win the Orange County commissioners’ approval of a zoning change needed to proceed with construction of two school buildings, a K-8 school operated by Carolina Achieve, and the West Triangle High School, John Oxaal recalled in the interview Wednesday.

Rather than open as a STEM-based high school, Carolina Achieve plans to open the new charter school in August 2025 for an initial enrollment of up to 300 students, or 100 students per grade, in kindergarten through second grade; additional grades would be added during each successive year of operation, Oxaal explained Wednesday.  “We’re going to add one grade per year until we get through high school,” the board chairman said.

The board for Carolina Achieve hopes to break ground on the site this fall, Oxaal explained.  The initial plan is start out with modular structures, to be followed by the construction of a brick-and-mortar school building within a few years, he said.  Hubrich Contracting of Durham, a construction company specializing in charter school facilities that has built other nearby charter schools, has agreed to build the future school for Carolina Achieve, Oxaal said.

Carolina Achieve plans to focus its curriculum “on the interconnectedness of language arts, mathematics, and science and their application beyond the classroom,” which would be complemented by arts, P.E., entrepreneurial, and other areas of instruction, according to a description from the school.  Carolina Achieve intends to develop a school environment that fosters strong parental involvement; physical and mental well-being; and skills, mindsets, and behaviors designed to position students for lifelong success.

Oxaal said that Carolina Achieve will differentiate itself from other traditional K-12 public schools and charter schools through its emphasis on rigorous academic offerings and “an overlay of entrepreneurial studies that will give our students a focus” and teach them habits needed to be successful “in every walk of life.”

“I really want children of middle class and lower middle class backgrounds to have really good educational opportunities,” Oxaal said in explaining his interest in founding a charter school.  “The reception we’ve gotten in Mebane and Alamance County has been really wonderful.”

Carolina Achieve hopes to begin enrolling its first students via an admissions lottery that will open in January 2025, Oxaal said.

Other founding board members for Carolina Achieve include: MaKayla Booker of Durham and Atlanta, executive director of a company called Wall Street Juniors; Dr. Dwayne Campbell of Durham, who previously worked as a director at the at the Emily Krzyzewski Center in Durham and currently works with an organization in Durham called FUSE; Jeff Clark, a venture capitalist based in Research Triangle Park; Charles Lopez of Mebane, who unsuccessfully ran for Mebane city council in 2021 and the state house in 2022 and whose online resume lists him as the “head of people” for Greenscape, a commercial landscaping and property management company in Raleigh;  Anjanette Miller, CEO of echo business consulting and services in Durham; and Tom Nechyba of Durham, a professor of economics at Duke University.

Mebane city officials previously confirmed for the newspaper that a preliminary site plan for the new charter school had been submitted to the city and would need to go through several processes before the property could be rezoned from its existing use to R-20, a residential designation that city officials say allows for schools to be built with a special use permit.  The property also would need to be annexed in order to have city water and sewer service extended to the site.

The site plan filed with the city of Mebane indicated that the new charter school would be built on a portion of the 15.7-acre site near the intersection of West Ten and Rock Quarry roads but gave no details about the possible square footage, number of stories, or how many buildings would be built.

The proposed site is currently owned by Deborah Neese Hawkins of Stuart, Virginia, according to Orange County’s Register of Deeds.  The latest appraised value for the property is listed at $123,308, according to Orange County tax records, which show that the current owner, Hawkins, is receiving an agricultural tax credit of $113,457, reducing the actual assessed value for the property to $9,851.

Ashley Baquero, director of the state Office of Charter Schools, recently confirmed for The Alamance News that the charter school had delayed opening until the fall of 2025 but was unable to provide additional details.

Alamance-Burlington school officials had told school board members during their budget discussions earlier this spring that ABSS is likely to lose students, as well as state per-pupil funding, when the new charter school opens in Mebane, which school officials said at the time they understood would open this August.

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