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A Center City High School

by Louis 'Smokey' Oats

December 2,2003

“What about high school?”

Since arriving in 1999 to start a K-8 elementary school in First Ward, I’ve led dozens of presentations to prospective parents. At every one of them, someone has asked: “When are you going to start a high school?

My standard answer is: “The Board of Trustees has declared that kindergarten through eighth grade is the ONLY school it is interested in launching. Someone else will have to initiate a high school.”

Make no mistake, Charlotte is blessed with a number of outstanding high schools, both public and private. Their campuses offer wonderfully comprehensive programs of rigorous academics, vital life lessons and competitive sports. And to date, there is adequate room in them for admission of students from such schools as mine.

Still, as good as these high schools are, each of apparent necessity is a self-contained “ivory tower.” They are self-reliant, independent, and largely disconnected from the economies and ecosystems that surround them. Other than the occasional field-trip, students at these high schools do not know firsthand the joy and excitement, the opportunity and engagement, the vibrancy and energy of learning, living and loving
in uptown Charlotte.

A high school in the Center City would have all four wards as its campus. Imagine the life lessons and degree of learning in economics by observing deals being made on the Bank of America trading floor; in law by watching proceedings from the back row of the courtroom; in theatre arts by talking to stagehands as they erect the next set at the Blumenthal; in science by taking advanced classes at nearby CPCC or observing surgery at Presbyterian Hospital; in civics by attending planning commission committee hearings; in criminal justice by joining in on the change of shifts at the uptown police headquarters; or in technology by visiting Gateway Village.

In a community where less than a third of the populace vote, where a national study has flagged the city for poor race relations, where disparity between the haves and have-nots is widening, a different, far more ‘hands-on’ and integrated approach to education would be a welcome change and of great benefit to all of Charlotte. A Center City High School would allow us to raise up a different kind of student and new kind of leader.

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