School’s goal from beginning to help black youth

By: - January 28, 2013 3:32 pm

QEA shares a parking lot with the Carver Road Church of Christ.

Quality Education Academy first opened its doors in 1992, as a private school affiliated with the Carver Road Church of Christ.

QEA shares a parking lot with the Carver Road Church of Christ.

QEA’s elementary school shares a parking lot with the church and its close ties to the school remain, with half of the public charter school’s board members past or present deacons or pastors at the church prominent in East Winston-Salem’s African-American community.

Simon Johnson, QEA’s chief executive officer, said he founded the school because he saw the failings of the Forsyth County schools to reach African-American students unacceptable. He wanted to apply a business ethic to the school, and the students come every day in uniforms, save one day a week where they come in formal dress.

“The results were appalling,” Johnson said about how black students were faring in the Winston-Salem and Forsyth County schools. “I deliberately set out to do things as differently as we could. I don’t apologize for doing some things differently.”

QEA became a public charter in 1997, serving middle-school grades at first and then expanding to including the elementary school. The high school, in a separate building than the elementary school, was added in 2007. Isaac Pitts, Quality Education Academy’s basketball coach, came to QEA around the same from a coaching job in Winston-Salem schools.

The school now enrolls kindergarten through grade 12 as well as pre-school under the name Quality Education Institute. It primarily serves black youth though, like all charter schools, it’s open to all students of all backgrounds. The school also has a high number of low-income students with more than 80 percent of its student qualifying for free and reduced lunches.

The school claims on its websites to have eliminated the achievement gap and points to a 100 percent graduation rate with no drop-outs.

But the school’s successes appear to be a bit more muddled. It obtained the state’s highest distinction, a School of Excellence in the 2009-10 school year, meaning that more than 90 percent of its students tested at or above grade level in end-of-grate exams. But DPI since found testing irregularities that’s led to increased observation of the state-mandated end-of-grade testing at the school.

The school was given a “No Recognition” classification in 2011-12, meaning the school failed to meet its academic growth targets. In state exams at the end of the year, , less than 70 percent of students tested at or above grade in reading while 83 percent of students tested at or above the state average in math.

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Sarah Ovaska-Few

Sarah Ovaska-Few, former Investigative Reporter for N.C. Policy Watch for five years, conducted investigations and watchdog reports into issues of statewide importance. Ovaska-Few was also staff writer and reporter for six years with the News & Observer in Raleigh, where she reported on governmental, legal, political and criminal justice issues.