The history of the Foundation is closely tied to the growth of Woods Charter School. As one of the oldest public charter schools in North Carolina, Woods Charter School has been a pioneer and leader in providing a successful alternative to traditional public schools.
Many people are not familiar with the existence of charter schools in North Carolina. In 1996, the North Carolina Legislature ratified House Bill 955, allowing for the creation of 100 charter schools, to encourage innovative teaching methods and provide families with more education choices, without cost as a factor. Soon after, a group of parents led by Roger Gerber created the Financial Reform for Excellence in Education (FREE), which would go on to found several charter schools in North Carolina, including Woods Charter School.
Woods Charter School was granted its founding charter in 1998. As a charter school, Woods must adhere to the same standards as traditional public schools, however, Woods is self-governed. This autonomy gives Woods the freedom to offer more creativity and flexibility in its curriculum and student activities, thereby offering tremendous options for students and families, but it also comes with a price. Charter schools are not eligible for North Carolina Education Lottery funds or local bond funds. School districts must appropriate a per-pupil allocation of public school funds to charter schools, but they are not required to share capital expense appropriations. As a result, many charter schools in North Carolina, including Woods, have faced serious challenges around facilities and transportation.
Woods Charter School was named for a family phrase used among the Gerber family, who said "in the woods" when they referred to their family home, among family and visitors alike. To them, this phrase engendered a feeling of home and family, and Roger Gerber wanted this charter school to feel like home to the families who would become part of the school. It's interesting to note that during speeches made by graduating seniors in 2010, nearly every one of them referred to the feeling of community and home that they had experienced while at Woods.
In August, 1998, Woods Charter School first opened its doors in Cole Park Plaza, on 15-501 between Chapel Hill and Pittsboro. At that time, there was a faculty and staff of 14 led by Principal Ray Kern and a student body of 78 in grades 6-12. For many years, desks, books, chairs, and lockers were purchased secondhand, and performances and graduation ceremonies were held in borrowed spaces. Woods families who were part of these inaugural years remember them with sentiment and fondness.
Over the next 7 years, under the leadership of Ray Kern, Dan Munn, Peter Travers, Richie Temple, David Seed, and Simon King, Woods expanded enrollment to 250 students in grades 1-12, and increased the size of the faculty and staff to 34 members. Finally, in 2007, after continuing to grow the student population to 340 students, the Cole Park Plaza space was beyond capacity, and elementary students, in grades 1-4, attended school in a rented facility in nearby Governor's Village.
Gratefully, at this point in Woods' history, Newland Communities generously donated 18 acres of land within their new multi-purpose development, Briar Chapel, to Woods Charter School. Woods Charter School overcame countless obstacles to privately finance a new school building with no additional tax burden to local residents. The land donation from Newland Communities combined with the financing resulted in the construction of our 63,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility, with construction beginning in July, 2007. In August, 2008, the doors opened to over 500 students, faculty and staff numbering 65, and a new principal, Harrell Rentz.
In order to enhance the bare bones of the new building, Woods needed more money than the bond provided. Supporting the excellent programs and new facilities required a tremendous amount of fundraising on the part of faculty and volunteers, so the Woods Charter School Board sanctioned a committee to form a separate nonprofit organization with 501(c)(3) status that would be dedicated to raising money for the school.
The Woods Charter School Foundation was established in 2007 with a focus on fundraising to bridge the gap between inadequate state and federal funding and the cost of providing a quality education and securing the long-term financial stability of Woods Charter School.
In 2008, the Foundation raised over $300,000, which was donated to the school to fund grant requests for items such as the security system for the new building, lockers, computers, white boards, a chemical fume hood and sinks for the science labs, and start-up items for our very first kindergarten classes.
In 2009, the Foundation continued to raise funds to honor grant requests, and also made a strong commitment to the Transportation program. A core group of volunteers created and organized the First Annual WoodsRock Festival at Shakori Hills Farm, sponsored by the Woods Charter School Foundation. With the successful fundraising of the first annual event, the Foundation donated enough money to increase the transportation fleet to serve the students of Woods Charter School.
The Foundation sponsored WoodsRock II, with great success, and raised funds to provide necessary repairs and maintenance to keep our transportation fleet safe for our children.
During the school year 2010-2011, the Woods Charter School Foundation embarked upon the inaugural year of our Annual Fund. The purpose of the Annual Fund was to bridge the gap between the actual cost of educating our students and the limited revenue that we receive from state and federal funds, approximately 86% of the funding that traditional public schools receive. The Annual Fund will enhance teaching, learning, and the community at Woods Charter School. Unrestricted gifts from student families, alumni, and friends provide textbooks and classroom resources, expand faculty development programs, update technology, and improve and strengthen academic programs. Each student at Woods Charter School will benefit in valuable ways from your generous donation.
The Foundation Board has additionally established short and long-term goals that include community outreach to obtain support from local businesses and philanthropic organizations whose objectives align with ours. To that end, we are striving for 100% participation among our Woods Charter School families, faculty and staff. Recognizing that the success of our school is largely dependent upon having the highest quality faculty and staff, the Board is additionally working to establish and endowment fund to support key faculty positions.
From 2012 to present, the Foundation has continued its efforts in growing the Annual Fund and has defined October as "the" month to donate. Grandparent's & Special Friend's Day grows bigger and bigger each year as does the Into the Woods 5K Family Fun Walk/Run. In April, the community joins together for the biggest FUNdraiser event ever; the Benefit Auction.
Supporting Woods Charter School means supporting a successful learning model that has worked for twenty plus years. The success of Woods is proof that a charter school can serve as an alternative to traditional public schools. The continued success is also proof of a strong faculty and school community that contribute to this achievement at Woods.