MONROE – Apprenticeship Academy High School of North Carolina is currently a functioning one-room schoolhouse of sorts. There are no students, just Principal Barry Ross in a one-room office in a commercial building along U.S. 74.
But all that is about to change as the charter school will open its doors in August in a new building on N.C. 84 in Monroe. Ross said the school will break ground on its new building later this month or early February. The building is expected to be completed by July 15, which would be a little more than a month before the first students walk in the door. The first phase will be approximately 30,000 square feet.
“It will be a 21st-century facility,” Ross said.
Apprenticeship Academy’s focus will be on career and technology education.
Students enrolled in the skilled trades and automotive service cluster will have the skills, credentials and certificates to work right away after graduating high school. The skilled services cluster will help prepare future cosmetologists or culinary arts professionals get an extra certificate or prepare for community college. A third track will specialize in computer science and information technology, preparing students to go to four-year universities.
Ross said programs will be flexible to accommodate students who may want to change their career path.
“Say you have a student that thought he wanted to be an electrician but by the time they get to 12th grade, they say, ‘Mr. Ross, I want to go to college and be an electrical engineer,’” Ross said. “We have that kind of flexibility to do that.”
One of the more unique programs Apprenticeship Academy will offer is culinary arts. The new school will be outfitted with a full-service commercial kitchen.
“The goal is to hire a chef-instructor that not only teaches but also prepares and serves the food to students,” Ross said. “I know the right chef is out there and I will find him or her. We will also have a café run by the students, so they will make the pastries and serve the coffee and do all that. We have to feed the kids anyway, so why not?’’
Ross has been pleased with the support the school has received from the local business community.
“Our focus is providing skills, and the business community knows there is a void out there,” Ross said.
The new charter school is tuition-free and open to any student in the state. The first
year, the school will welcome students in grades nine through 11. Ross is hoping to attract 150 students in each of the freshmen and sophomore classes and 75 juniors this coming school year.
Ross, a former Union County Public Schools alternative school principal and a retired Army lieutenant colonel, has been working on opening the charter school for over three years. He hopes to grow enrollment to 600 students in grades nine through 12.
Ross said students from Union and Mecklenburg counties have already registered during the open enrollment period. Open enrollment ends Jan. 19 at 5 p.m. A computer-generated lottery will be used to select students if any grade level exceeds its enrollment allotment.
“We are a small high school and that is why parents are choosing us,” Ross said.
Ross, who has begun the process of hiring teachers and other staff, expects the new building to be completed in time for the first day of school.
“Our backup plan is to have mobile units on the property,” Ross said. James Warner, a professional engineer that has lived in Waxhaw for over three decades, chairs the board of directors, while Indian Trail Mayor Michael Alvarez is one of the board members.
The new charter school will field some sports teams and the board recently hired an athletic consultant to start that process. Clubs and other extracurricular activities are also possible.
“This consultant will build the program, and all our sports the first year will be JV sports,” Ross said.
Apprenticeship Academy originally planned to open in a temporary facility for this school year but those plans were scrapped because the charter school didn’t meet the minimum enrollment required by the state.
“I had already hired staff, and that is the worst thing in the world to make job offers and tell them sorry,” Ross said. “I know that was very stressful for them. So far this year, we have already exceeded the minimum amount that the state requires to open up. I’m confident hiring teachers now because I know we will be open.”