The dream of creating The North Carolina Leadership Academy began with a discussion among ex‐Oak Ridge Military Academy parents, alumni, and staff about the strengths that a college preparatory experience with a strong leadership development component provided students in real world situations. It included discussions of the advantages of high expectations for students both morally and ethically combined with daily opportunities to practice and grow their leadership skills under the supervision of caring adults. The participants in this discussion shared many personal experiences of the strengths that such an experience gave them or their children. That led to a discussion of how unfortunate it was that the cost of such an education was out of reach for so very many students and the statement that it SHOULD be available to all students, not just those whose parents had money for private schooling.
In that conversation, Colonel Frederick J. Kennedy suggested that charter schools, which were public schools that could have specific missions, would allow them to serve all interested students without charging tuition. At that point, Mr. Sam “Chip” Cook, one of the founding board members, contacted Mrs. Dottie Heath at The Office of Charter Schools. Mrs. Heath had served as Academic Dean at Oak Ridge Military Academy from 1990 through 1996 and had two boys graduate from ORMA, and at that time was currently working in The Office of Charter Schools. Mr. Cook asked if she would be willing to talk to some interested parties about what charter schools are, how they are created, and the financial accountability that would go with being granted a charter. This was in 2010.
The group was very interested and felt creating a charter school might be the ideal way to make a college preparatory education with a strong leadership component available to all interested students. Further discussion ensued on ways to make an even stronger leadership-training component through implementation of the Civil Air Patrol Aerospace Connections in Education curriculum and the Cadet Squadron program, which was spearheaded by another founding board member and Civil Air Patrol officer, Major Karl Katterjohn. Additionally, the group discussed the advantages such a school could be to the community with the requirement of a strong community involvement component in the curriculum. Unfortunately, at that point, the NC Charter School Law was capped at 100 charter schools and the maximum had been reached. It did not seem that anything could be done unless one of the current charter schools lost its charter. The wait began.
Then in late 2011, the NC Legislature lifted the cap on the number of charter schools. Once again these interested individuals, most of whom later became board members of The NCLA, proposed the idea of writing a charter school application with the specific mission that they had been discussing – a school that would seek the acceptance of all high school graduates to the colleges of their choices by unlocking their scholarship, leadership, and citizenship potential through their empowerment in a participative leadership role within the Academy, its community, and the State of North Carolina. This school that would be available to all interested students regardless of their family’s financial status. The group expanded to more board members, including Dr. Patricia Fairfield-Artman and Dr. Carl Lashley, who were faculty members at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and very interested in the creation of such a school. Other founding board members included C. John Malzone, Quentin Brown, Billy Yeargin and later, Darrell Davis of Kernersville.
The founding board began to write their charter with many phone conversations and shared emails during the process to be sure that the application correctly reflected their joint vision for the school. What resulted was the application as it was eventually presented to the NC Public Charter School Advisory Council the week of April 13, 2012. The Advisory Sub‐Committee reviewed The NCLA application favorably, and The NCLA board was then provided the opportunity to interview with the full Advisory Council. With a motion put forward by councilmember Al Dillon, the Advisory Council recommended to the NC State Board of Education that they grant a preliminary charter to The NCLA. This was unanimously approved by the SBE at their September, 2012 board meeting, and The NCLA Board of Trustees began the real work of trying to implement their vision.