Durham parents who want a “child-centered” education for their elementary schoolers will have a new charter school option this year.

Patterning their school after a model usually found in private schools, a group of Durham educators and parents plan to open The Central Park School for Children July 14. The school will use an integrated, hands-on curriculum and a management structure that focuses on “no-fault problem-solving.”

“We’re creating a place where kids learn how to learn, and they learn to be in charge of their own learning,” says founding board president Vicky Patton. “Now, if you want that kind of education, you have to go to the private schools.”

The new school will make its home in the former U.S. Army Reserve building on Foster Street, adjacent to Durham’s new Central Park and within close range of downtown community resources like the YMCA and the Durham Arts Council. The year-round school will offer spots to 112 students in kindergarten, first and second grade starting this summer; plans include adding a grade a year until enrollment reaches 252 students in kindergarten through fifth grades.

“We’re hoping to get a fairly mixed group of students,” says board member Ted Fiske. Since securing their charter from the state late last year, joining nine other charter schools in Durham, the organizers have leased the old military headquarters from the city, begun hiring staff and are now soliciting applications. A Durham Public Schools administrator and former elementary school principal, Carolyn Kirkland, is slated to direct the school, and the founding board includes some high-profile locals.

Patton, who helped organize the private Duke School for Children in Durham two decades ago, also served as an assistant to Terry Sanford while he was president of Duke University. Fiske is the former education editor of The New York Times and creator of “The Fiske Guide to Colleges.” The board also includes Bob Chapman, a builder who just completed the Trinity Heights housing project for Duke University and chairs the N.C. Smart Growth Alliance; Margaret Arbuckle, a former Guilford County Commissioner and chair of the N.C. Child Advocacy Institute; educator Joanne Edelman; Duke University’s Bryan Center founding director Jon Phelps; and Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy staffer Jacqueline Terrell.

The philosophy behind the Central Park School for Children includes the formation of “a community of partners to guide, cherish and be amazed by the children.” One component includes a list of concrete commitments that parents are asked to meet, such as agreeing to read to their children at least 30 minutes a day, limit their TV viewing and their sweets and ensure they get plenty of sleep.

“We all know that’s the main difference between a child who does well and one who doesn’t–whether their parents are committed to their success,” says Patton.

In return, educators promise small classes of 14 students and a learning environment that encourages each student to “explore, analyze, challenge and develop all their capabilities and gifts–intellectual, artistic, physical, ethical and social,” where kids “can learn anything they choose.”

Because charter schools have to meet state mandates, the Central Park School will administer the annual student performance tests required in public schools, but Patton says the real measure of students’ progress will be tracked in the narrative assessments that will replace traditional report cards.

The school will follow the Durham Public Schools’ year-round calendar, but will not have its own buses. Applications will be accepted until March 10; the deadline will be extended if spaces remain after that date. For more information, visit

www.centralparkschoolforchildren.org or call Patton at 489-1884. EndBlock