Vol.#19: Raleigh Charter High School


In Volume #17 I discussed my County’s many options for parents. My year round school’s track outs provide an opportunity to visit the several types of these public school options while they are in session.  This is the second school in a series of four.

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Ms. Kristine Chalifoux  (Shall-if-oo) is one of those English teachers from whom both light and energy seem to radiate in an almost palpable aura. She is creative and energetic and dazzling, but make no mistake: she is also razor-sharp and an expert in her content. She has unapologetically and uncompromisingly high expectations, and when in her class, you’d better be up to snuff.

As a language arts teacher, you just can’t help but feel like a slouch next to Ms. Chalifoux.

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An older remodeled building that’s now industrial-chic, Raleigh Charter High School is home to a little over 550 students, where 21% of the students are in Advanced College Prep Courses (AP*, IB**, Community College, University). The state average in North Carolina for students enrolled in Technical or Community College is 15% of the high school population, however at RCHS it is 0%. Zero. A total 100% of their student population is college-bound.

Though Raleigh Charter is a public school, they have their own Board of Directors and are not part of the jurisdiction of Wake County’s Board and operate independently of the Wake County Public School System. Charter High schools require that only 50% of the teachers must hold a license. There are no busses – families are responsible for transportation. (Source and more on Charter schools here.) Anyone in the state of North Carolina can apply, and typically there’s 10-13% chance getting in during the public lottery drawing in the spring. Ms. Chalifoux tells me there are often as many as 1,100 applications for 110 spots.

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I observed one class of 18 seniors and another of 17 juniors. One class was using the fishbowl strategy and both teachers I observed used a socratic method of instruction. Every classroom was equipped with a ceiling-mounted data projector.

My favorite part of my visit, besides coffee with an amazing educator, was watching the Islam Club meet in her classroom during lunch. Fifteen students came with their lunch, and as this was the very first meeting, a few  students presented what one could expect if joining Islam Club. (Topics would include current events and other items, they’d already created a Facebook group, etc.)

However, it was far from a boring informational meeting.

The young man who seemed the unofficial “leader” of the presenters posed this question to the group, which he’d written on Ms. Chalifoux’s board ahead of time:

“Should a person be taught to form their own beliefs to conform to what society/other sources (mosque/religion) teach?”

I was blown away as they had this amazing, completely student-generated discussion, all of which continued while the teacher, not leading or even part of the discussion, was able to go heat her lunch in another room. This would not happen as effortlessly in my experiences, though whether this is a difference in high school vs. middle school, or something about the special place that is Raleigh Charter, I’m just not sure.

Raleigh Charter HS tagxedo
Raleigh Charter HS tagxedo

We’re now halfway through my four schools visited, but please stay tuned. In my next post, I return to my own personal familiar ground of middle school, though with the twist of single-gender instruction at the Wake Young Men’s Leadership Academy.

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