Heritage Leadership Academy has only been open for about 18 months but the school is already making a monumental impact in the lives of students. Heritage now has two campuses in the Triangle region. One located in Apex and one in Durham. The school is receiving attention for its differentiation in the education marketplace by educators and parents alike.
Perhaps nobody understands that there is a need for lots of options and choices in education than school founder Georgeanna Wiest. She is a mother of five and saw a need for something unique through the experience of her own family. While searching for options for her children nothing really was meeting that demand and she felt God calling her to start an entirely new kind of school.
In 2017, Wiest decided to launch Heritage as a hybrid option for classroom instruction that partners with parents, splitting up the school week into the classroom and “satellite” (at home) days. A flexible community and classroom structure was formed while keeping the piece for home learning and instruction. Two days a week are spent in the classroom for K-6 students and three days a week for seventh and eighth grade.
Wiest notes a lot of parents are looking for their children to be a part of a healthy community, where deep friendships develop and personal faith is given space to flourish. The emphasis on cultivating leadership skills is also a hallmark feature of Heritage’s approach to educating students to thrive in the 21stcentury.
Another thing she notes is that “parents are just as important in the education journey as our teachers.” She adds that “It has to be a healthy dynamic for the marriage in this school to work, and that’s why it doesn’t work for every family or parent.”
Heritage is a University Model School, which focuses on college and career readiness and a vibrant Christian worldview and faith witness.
“Education is seen and often practiced as an informative experience,” says Carl Chaney, head administrator at Heritage. “Educators often just dump a lot of information on to students. At Heritage, we are intentionally doing a lot of formative education which encompasses the whole person.”
Chaney cited Heritage’s mission statement found on the school’s website and noted, “If we believe the Gospel to be true, that changes everything about your life. We are not removing students from culture but giving them the tools to defend what they believe.”
A recent Civitas poll showed strong and broad support for school choice across all demographics. Wiest simply notes about school choice: “The more choices we give people the more ability we give them to choose what is best. So much is about providing another option for families.” She says that the Opportunity Scholarship program in North Carolina is instrumental in allowing for many of the children to attend Heritage.
Chaney, a former public-school teacher at Cary High School, who was recognized as their teacher of the year, noted that “there is a lot of teaching to the bottom for students in the public school system, and so with our program, you can tailor more specific needs for your child.” Chaney notes too that a public school might be a great fit for a child but having more options is crucial, particularly in a world where competition for jobs is now international not just national or statewide.
When asked about the one size fits all model that permeates so many public schools, Chaney says, “You have a lot of policymakers and experts who haven’t spent any time in the classroom.” Chaney concedes that Heritage may not be the best option for every child as well. “If you’re looking for a purely classical education that is not us. We really want to help parents make that decision on what school is best for their child and be completely transparent with them.”
Chaney notes classes are capped right around 12 students and he believes that is a decisive advantage for many students as opposed to teaching in a public school which often had as many as 33 students in a classroom. “The attention we can give is transformative for their lives.”
Another differentiator Wiest likes to talk about is how the school’s values transcend much of the educational complex worldview that has led to massive student debt and a considerable amount of occupational disappointment and angst.
“Success isn’t necessarily where students go to college and your success isn’t measured in material things and worldly status alone,” she says. “Success is really the true joy of what they were created to do and be. I truly feel our school understands that.” Wiest notes that there are families and students who are not Christian and they are welcomed within the Heritage community too. “We feel like we have so much to offer families from so many diverse perspectives. We want to be an example to the world.”
Heritage is planning on starting classes for ninth graders in the next academic year. One of the obstacles for the growth of the school has been regulation, particularly on buildings.
“There are so many regulations on schools and buildings and the regulatory pieces make it extremely difficult to start or open schools,” says Wiest. “We really want to go where the people want us and we can’t because of some of these regulations. It’s a challenge. But we are striving to overcome that every day and we would love more help from lawmakers.”
This article first appeared in the February print edition of NC Capitol Connection.