Charter high school could open in Morrisville

aramos@newsobserver.comDecember 30, 2013 

From left, Kaleidoscope Art & Technology Charter High School board members Debbie Dillon, Margaret Broadwell and founder Lara Visser meet to talk about plans for the prospective high school in Morrisville. If the state approves the school, Kaleidoscope would be the first public high school in Morrisville.

ALIANA RAMOS — aramos@newsobserver.com

— A group of residents from western Wake County is trying to open what would be Morrisville’s first public high school – a charter school with a Montessori theme and a focus on art and technology.

Morrisville, which has a population of about 20,000, is one of two towns in Wake County without a high school. Zebulon, a town of about 5,000 people, also doesn’t have a high school.

The Wake County school system has no plans in sight to build a high school in Morrisville. So art teacher Lara Visser of Cary saw an opportunity to start her dream school and meet a community need.

Visser and a nine-member board submitted an application in December with the state Department of Public Instruction to open the Kaleidoscope Art & Technology High School.

A decision could be handed down by June.

If the application is approved, the school would open in 2015 to serve 200 ninth- and 10th-grade students. Once all four grade levels are in place, the school would accommodate about 400 students, Visser said.

Kaleidoscope could be one of only a few Montessori-themed high schools in the state. Montessori schools focus on allowing students to work on their own, with guidance from teachers.

Classes would start at 10 a.m., after one hour of physical education that would start at 9 a.m.

Studies have shown that students do better when they start classes later and when they begin the day with exercise, Visser said.

Plans don’t call for traditional classroom furniture.

“We are planning to create a Google office atmosphere,” Visser said. “It’s going to be a real-world work environment.”

Morrisville Mayor Mark Stohlman is on Kaleidoscope’s board.

“We have a very well-educated, tech-centric (population) here, and I think it deserves its own charter school,” Stohlman said. “I think we will meet the needs of our citizens. It will also alleviate some of the overcrowding (at schools) and give people more options.”

Stohlman said it’s important to bring a high school to Morrisville.

“Everyone grew up with a high school in their town,” he said. “You feel like you’re missing something. We are soon going to have Wake (Technical Community College) in our midst. ... We have some of those options with higher education, but we have a pretty major gap with the secondary school, at the high school level.”

Among the school’s board members are Margaret Broadwell, a former Morrisville Town Councilwoman; Debbie Dillon, founder of Thrift ’n Gift in Cary; and and Janet Littlejohn, a teacher assistant at the Sterling Montessori Academy and Charter School in Morrisville.

“I believe in charter schools, for one because they are a school of choice,” Littlejohn said. “Two, it’s an alternative way of learning and it’s more of a small-community feel.”

While Kaleidoscope is awaiting state approval, its board is looking for a building with about 30,000 square feet of space to house the school.

The board is also trying to get seed money for equipment and donations for marketing materials.

The state would pay only for teacher salaries, Visser said.

A think tank of engineers, teachers, graphic designers and animators will meet next year to come up with a curriculum that meets industry needs, including robotics and game design, she said.

Morrisville is the ideal location because of its proximity to Research Triangle Park and the large number of technology companies within town limits, Visser said.

There could be opportunities for students to take part in job shadowing and internships, she said.

“We want to see young people very well-equipped in real-world technology as well as ground them in the arts as well as animation, design and sculpture,” Visser said.

Ramos: 919-460-2609; Twitter: @AlianaCaryNews

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