Non-profit organization Frontier Education Foundation hopes to open a charter school in Whitewright by the start of the 2020 school year — and local public schools officials have voiced concerns.


The foundation recently applied through the Texas Education Agency to open a charter school in Whitewright. If the foundation’s application is approved, the earliest the charter school could open is the 2020-2021 academic year, according to Frontier Education Foundation Founder and Vice Chair of the Board Cheryll Yowell.


Yowell, who has more than 20 years as a public school educator in Grayson County, said the reason the foundation chose to pursue a charter school was to offer more school options in Grayson and Fannin counties, while avoiding charging tuition as a private school.


“It is about choice,” Yowell said.


“If a student lives in the farthest regions of Grayson County and wants to attend, they can,” Yowell added.


TEA sent an impact statement letter to 28 school districts, including Anna, Bells, Bland, Blue Ridge, Bonham, Celeste, Collinsville, Denison, Dodd City, Ector, Farmersville, Gunter, Howe, Leonard, McKinney, Melissa, Pottsboro, Princeton, S&S, Sam Rayburn, Savoy, Sherman, Tioga, Tom Bean, Trenton, Van Alstyne, Whitewright and Wolfe City.


According to the letter, the charter school is expected to have enrollment numbers of 154 for its first year of operation, 198 by year two, 308 by year three, 352 by year four, 396 by year five with a maximum capacity enrollment of 1,078 total students. The respective school district administrations have until March 29 to respond to the letter with comments and concerns.


Some of those districts didn’t waste any time voicing concerns. A group of superintendents from Grayson County schools recently met with Texas District 62 Rep. Reggie Smith to discuss issues schools face during this legislative session — including their concerns regarding charter schools.


Whitewright Independent School District Superintendent Steve Arthur said it was his top priority to discuss the Frontier Education Foundation’s application for a charter school to be established five miles from WISD campuses.


“I wanted to make him aware of the impact it would have on our schools in particular and the surrounding schools,” Arthur said.


“In a rural area like this, especially small schools like ours, if we lost just ten students, it would be a $65,000 reduction in state funding for our district,” Arthur added. “That is more than a teacher’s salary. From a financial standpoint, that is alarming.”


Arthur said he is also concerned about public schools being held academically responsible for students who transfer to charter schools and return to public schools.


Denison Independent School District Superintendent Henry Scott said he also spoke with Rep. Smith about charter schools and how they impact districts


“They need to be held more accountable,” Scott said. “In many cases, they don’t have an elected board. They are freed from a lot of state requirements we have to abide by. Even though they are considered a public school, they still have capacity to pick and choose students much like a private school. A public school doesn’t have those choices.”


Scott said he didn’t believe charter schools were geared to serve rural areas as much as metropolitan areas.


Yowell said one thing that separates a charter school from a traditional public school is how a charter can pick broader boundaries in order to attract students from other areas. She said even though public schools do often accept transfer students, they tend to turn people away once the district is at capacity.


She said the charter school’s curriculum will be outdoor based as students would grow gardens and use those to learn life skills.


Yowell said the school will start with kindergarten through fifth grade and expand to pre-K to 12th grade over the next few years. She said the charter school plans to provide a unique education experience to the region.


“All of our activities, all of our lessons will revolve around outdoor garden areas where students will plant and grow gardens,” Yowell said. “From planning them, caring for them and harvesting them, the gardens will be at the center of the curriculum.”


Cathy Harris is listed as the superintendent of the proposed charter school on the application submitted to TEA. Jason Norton, Senior Pastor of King’s Trail Cowboy Church, is also listed as the CEO and Chairperson of the school board.


Yowell insisted the church was not directly affiliated with the foundation, which is just leasing some buildings from the church. However, according to Article IX of the church bylaws, it states under the heading activities on church property, “all activities on church property must incorporate worship.”


Yowell said the charter school would need the church to amend its bylaws to allow for its operation under state law or else seek an alternative location to be compliant. She said the lease agreement does not specify worship.


Yowell said one thing that separates a charter school from a traditional public school is how a charter can pick broader boundaries in order to attract students from other areas. She said even though public schools do often accept transfer students, they tend to turn people away once the district is at capacity.


She said the charter school’s curriculum will be outdoor based as students would grow gardens and use those to learn life skills.


Yowell said the school will start with kindergarten through fifth grade and expand to pre-K to 12th grade over the next few years. She said the charter school plans to provide a unique education experience to the region.


“All of our activities, all of our lessons will revolve around outdoor garden areas where students will plant and grow gardens,” Yowell said. “From planning them, caring for them and harvesting them, the gardens will be at the center of the curriculum.”