HendersonvilleNews StoriesPete Zamplas

Lake Lure Classical Academy has customized instruction, plans new facility


By Pete Zamplas –

Lake Lure Classical Academy customizes instruction by varying grade levels for a student’s subjects, while keeping the youth in his or her usual grade classroom.

The public charter school began August 2010. It does not charge tuition. LLCA serves students from five area counties, and buses from Hendersonville a half-hour away.

The school has modular classrooms, but will offer a much larger facility in a year and a half. LLCA plans on building a 65,000-square-foot school with a 700-student capacity on 34 acres at highway 9 and Island Creek Road near Ingles, principal Caroline Upchurch said. She said work should start in summer and finish for 2014-15.

Upchurch said the academy keeps its new two-story school to a $6 million budget by foregoing brick for its exterior, and using another material such as fiberglass. She is very grateful the Town of Lake Lure donated the land, and for a $10,000 grant for solar panels in science labs.

The new campus is three miles from the current one off U.S. 64/74 west of the Lake Lure beach. It has a stone wall from Lake Lure School that was there in the Twenties.

The school is adding one upper grade each year, and will have a 10th grade this fall. A classroom expansion will fit with ninth grade. Eventually, the school will be K-12. The 37 ninth-graders, since grade seven, have been the school’s eldest students as grades are added. They are due to be the academy’s first graduating class — in 2016.

The school has expanded extra-curricular and athletic activities. First-ever LLCA baseball games were this past week. Spring sports are also softball and soccer. Other teams are in basketball, flag football, and cross country. There are golf (with 15 players) and tennis clubs, using nearby town facilities. The outdoors club hikes or fishes every other week, and cares for flower beds by a bridge over rapids-filled Rocky Broad River.

“Parents like that we offer clubs and athletics,” Principal Upchurch said. “They say they like our family atmosphere. One said, ‘You even know my child’s middle name.’”

But the focus is mostly academic. “Our main advantage is with our very rich curriculum,” Upchurch said. “We provide a public education, following state standards and giving state-standard tests. We use the core knowledge sequence. It’s rich with history, and enriched with Latin root words” useful for later medical or legal studies. “We infuse art and music into the curriculum,” such as with the after-school Rock and Roll Club run by teacher Andy Todd and LLCA’s horn-featuring Village Band. Every six weeks, students quiz each other about books they read with prizes going to winners.

Todd and Melinda Morse have sons in ninth and second grades. Morse’s family built Lake Lure, and for decades ran nearby Chimney Rock Park until it went public. Melinda leads the academy’s Curriculum Committee. She likes customizing of instruction. The student stays in his or her usual grade, but might read or be taught math in a sub-group at a different level.

Seventh through 10th grades have specialists teach each subject. Fifth grade subjects are split by three teachers. There are 32 teachers. One-third have master’s degrees. Some have taught in local public schools, others charter schools in the Great Lakes region or South. “It’s flattering they’re so interested in our program, to relocate to our area.” Upchurch said.

Parents can check online for curriculum details, such as which books their child will read. Fifth grade is reading Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream in original Olde English and also modern English, in the No Fear Shakespeare scholastic series.

Upchurch’s son Eddie, in kindergarten, is already a math whiz. She has a master’s degrees in school administration from N.C. State, and fine arts from Virginia Commonwealth. Her parents were both administrators at Raleigh Community Hospital.

Caroline Upchurch is well-versed in charter schools, as a teacher then assistant principal in Eastern N.C. As a private school student, she valued academics and “admired my teachers greatly. I see that here. We’re building an atmosphere in which students respect and admire our teachers.”

She is also proud of safety precautions, in light of horrendous attacks in schools such as in Newtown, Conn. “That happened right before our Family Night,” she recalled. “I told students how ‘we’re still such a strong school family, we are undaunted by the acts of unkind people.’” Last week, teachers answered any student inquiry about recent terrorist bombings in Boston.

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