Local charter school sees enrollment jump amid pandemic

MOUNT HOLLY, N.C. — Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, experts have seen several trends in how children learn.

Those changes began with the early days of learning at home, then transformed into a part-time return to the classroom. That finally became a full-time return to class.

With all those changes, Channel 9′s DaShawn Brown learned that some parents are looking at other options to teach their children.

Mountain Island Charter School is growing, just like a host of charter schools across the country — many of which have experienced their biggest enrollment jumps in years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I do believe this pandemic has given families a reason to pause, reflect and consider what choices they have, what are the best options for their child’s future,” said Glenn Byrum, the executive director for Mountain Island Charter.

Mountain Island Charter is a public school, but it’s one of choice.

Byrum said the school experienced a near 6% jump in recent years — a number which is mostly due to the expansion of classrooms.

“One of the things we’ve been very proud of is being able to provide a stable and predictable environment for kids,” Byrum said. “Our waitlist tends to range from 1,600-2,000 students, which is similar to or greater than our enrollment on any given year.”

Nationally, the enrollment jumped 7% for charter schools this past year during the first full year of the pandemic, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Also during that time, at least 39 states experienced a jump, including North Carolina (up 8.5%) and South Carolina (up 17.1%).

Jackie Hall is a staff member at Mountain Island Charter and recently enrolled her son, who is a fifth grader, into the school.

“It’s definitely a change, but for the better,” Hall said.

It’s a culture shift for their entire family.

“He went to public school right near my house, and he enjoyed it. But I feel like he’s got a lot more out of being here,” Hall said.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw very little movement of our students, our staff, our families,” Byrum said. “Most individuals were very pleased with the quality of remote instruction we provided when schools first closed and the hybrid program we ran back in August 2020, allowing students to come to school five days a week or to work entirely virtually.”

That coincides with data from the National Parents Union, which indicated most parents are seeking more options — charter schools being one of them.

Byrum said the school did experience a slight dip in enrollment during the pandemic. It lost about 2% of its student body, as some families chose to relocate to other areas. However, those seats were filled quickly by students on the school’s waitlist.

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