LLCA enters its 12th year with a new, highly skilled admin team in place and focused squarely on the students

by Valerie A. Hoffman
Communications Director

Long before the class of 2021 turned their tassels to the other side of their caps on graduation night, LLCA School Director Barbara Cohen had been hard at work building a strong new administrative team, adding more highly qualified new teachers, and putting the final touches on a comprehensive environmental education space for outdoor student learning and socialization.

The 2021-2022 school year kicked off Aug. 9th with a record number of new Kindergarten students, a vibrant middle school population, and 41 new Seniors for the Class of 2022.

Serving students from five counties, the tuition-free K-12 Public Charter School has been a major employer and community mainstay of the Lake Lure area since 2010 when it opened its doors in a group of modular buildings on Memorial Highway.

Today, the school campus covers 34 acres on Island Creek Drive, surrounded by park and forest land against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Foothills.  It employs over 70 people and provides student bus services at 13 cluster stops covering hundreds of miles per week.

Having navigated a particularly challenging school year in 2020, the COVID pandemic revealed incredible strengths as well as opportunities for growth, reflection, and improvement.

“Early on we knew that each and every one of us would either embrace these challenges and come out stronger, or we would retreat and fall behind,” said Ms. Cohen. “As the school’s director, and with the support of an incredible board of directors, we weathered each challenge as it presented itself, and committed to keep our focus squarely on our students and families.”

“I’m so proud and humbled by the faculty we have in place. So many of them displayed true grit and determination to do everything in their power to stay ‘child focused’ to think of others and be sensitive to the incredible hardships that our families faced during the pandemic.”

Ahead of the first day of school, a day-long open house was held on August 5th to officially welcome new and existing families to the school campus. Other than the graduation ceremony in June, it was the first-time families and the public were able to enter the building since March 2020. Hundreds of families and students attended one of the three sessions held throughout the day.

Lake Lure Baptist Church generously donated lunch for all attendees and staff.

The school is looking forward to a great school year, bolstered by the wealth of talent, professionalism, and experience of the new leadership team joining Ms. Cohen. In addition to over a dozen new school teachers, the new admin team is: 

  • Michael Smith – Assistant Principal for the High School. Mr. Smith was the Academic Dean at Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy for the past four years. He will also be an adjunct teacher for the Isothermal Community College “Early College” courses offered on the campus of LLCA.
  • Kristilee Newton – Assistant Principal, 5th-8th Grade. Ms. Newton joins LLCA from Columbia, SC, where she was an Elementary School Assistant Principal for many years.
  • Dr. Genie Phipps – Assistant Principal, K-4th Grade. Phipps joins LLCA from neighboring Polk County with over 30 years of experience in public education.

New Outdoor Education & Dining Space Planned

In collaboration with local Landscape Architectural Firm, Knight Strategies, LLCA has received an elaborate plan for a new Outdoor Education & Dining Space. Once built, students will enjoy the benefits of sunshine and the refreshing connection to nature while participating in outdoor learning. Connecting kids to the outdoors is one key in preserving physical and mental well-being, a natural springboard for academic success. This project has been fully funded and construction is set to begin in early fall. 

Expanded Counseling Team

Each school level – K-5, Middle School, and High School – now has its own dedicated counselor. This strengthening of counseling services will be of great benefit to students and families.

 Elementary School & Middle School Updates:

  • The Little Raptors Kindergarten Program continues to grow in dramatic ways. The program now has three kindergarten teachers.
  • Math and reading specialists have been added to grades K-8, and the Academically and Intellectually Gifted (AIG) program has two new teachers. AIG students will be served in reading, math, and science this year.
  • Middle school enrichment classes include Life Skills, Wellness, Art, and Music including the new school band program for students.
  • LLCA has also partnered with Mountain Roots out of Brevard to offer students experiential, outdoor education programs based on NC Science standards, including learning about nature in the Hickory Nut Gorge.

High School Updates:

New teachers also join the high school to instruct Math, English and Physics. All of the new high school teachers have earned their Masters’ degrees and will be part of LLCA’s continually expanding dual-enrollment program with Isothermal Community College. 

Other High School changes include:

  • Family and Consumer Sciences – a new elective course where students will be creating a variety of projects related to the subjects being studied in the classroom, (cooking, sewing, careers, and life skills). 
  • Several new outdoor education courses, including Outdoor Survival Skills and Horticulture.

LLCA is actively looking for additional bus drivers to be a part of a growing school environment. For more information about the school, its programs, or how to become involved, visit LLCharter.org or call 828-625-9292.