MINT HILL, NC – Queen’s Grant High School is seeing record demand for the upcoming school year. For the first time in the charter school’s history, they have a waitlist for all four grades for 2022-2023.
This year, Queen’s Grant had 524 students, its highest ADM (average daily membership) in ten years, and its second-highest ADM ever in the history of the school – and that’s with just 100 seniors. Next year, Queen’s Grant Principal Josh Swartzlander is planning for 540 students.
Central to Swartzlander’s plan for expansion is the construction of a gym and performing arts center. Queen’s Grant secured property adjacent to the school, formerly owned by the Ivey family, at the beginning of 2019. In the fall of 2019, they toured gyms of schools in their conference and started getting quotes from builders.
When COVID hit, Queen’s Grant was forced to put plans for building on the back burner while other more immediate needs took center stage. “The focus last year was on how to get the kids back in school and do it safely,” says Swartzlander. “We spent all of our time talking about cleaning, social distancing, how many students we could have in a classroom. Everything was re-evaluated and redone completely.”
As Queen’s Grant settled into a new normal of masking and hybrid instruction, they began to return to the idea of the gym and performing arts center. Unfortunately, as anyone who has embarked on a construction project during the pandemic knows, they found that not only had costs gone up considerably but banks were also somewhat reluctant to back a project like this in such uncertain times.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” says Swartzlander. “The builders came back with updated quotes, and the quotes were nothing like they had been. We didn’t know what we were going to do or how it was going to play out.”
As we move into a more endemic phase of COVID where life looks almost normal on the Queen’s Grant campus, Swartzlander and his team are ready to move forward with the gym and performing arts center. They’re in the final stages of securing plans and quotes, and Swartzlander hopes that the board will decide on a direction by the end of the school year. If they break ground in the Fall, the new gym and performing arts center could be up and running in the Fall of 2023.
There’s a strange sort of circular logic to funding a project like this at a charter school, which receives a per pupil sum from the state but no additional funding for things like buildings and grounds. Increased enrollment necessitates more space, but ensuring the funds are there to expand requires demand in the form of increased enrollment.
For Queen’s Grant, the demand is there. “I feel pretty safe with 540 students next year, which would by far be the biggest year in our history,” says Swartzlander. “With 524, we’re maxed out on space. Next year, in order to accommodate a year of record demand with the supply of classrooms we’ve got, we’re going to have to get creative.”
Although the best case scenario doesn’t involve opening the gym and performing arts center for another full year, it’s a critical step to pave the way for further expansion. “If we move classrooms from here,” says Swartzlander, gesturing to the modular units that currently house performing and visual arts classes, “over there, then I’ve got a whole mod free where we can build a STEM program. That’s ultimately the next direction,” he continues. “We want to have engineering, robotics, that type of thing.”
Increased classroom space is only one of the benefits the new gym and performing arts center will bring to Queen’s Grant. “We lose a lot of revenue to outside vendors when we’re trying to have basketball games or volleyball games or performances because right now, we just don’t have the space,” explains Swartzlander. A gym and performing arts center would enable Queen’s Grant to host indoor sports games, concerts, plays, dances, and even graduation on their own campus. Hosting events like that on campus does more than save money; having space students and staff can call their own builds community and school spirit.
Meanwhile, Queen’s Grant is moving forward with other exciting improvements. Swartlzander has made a big push to upgrade the school’s technology with big-screen TVs in every classroom and a Microsoft Surface tablet for every teacher. They were recently approved for an Emergency Connectivity Grant to purchase a Chromebook for each student, allowing Queen’s Grant to become a true 1:1 school. They’re planning on adding more outdoor classrooms this summer outside Mods 4 and 5, and they’ve added unique electives like marine science, astronomy and Italian.
All of these improvements are certainly part of the demand Swartzlander is seeing, but they’re part of a bigger picture. One of Queen’s Grant’s main draws, feels Swartzlander, is its size. “I loved my experience in CMS,” he says. “I really enjoyed the kids. But it just felt too big. My classes were too big. I couldn’t really build relationships the way I wanted to.”
“The number one compliment I get daily is safety,” continues Swartzlander. In large part because it is smaller, Queen’s Grant has been able to maintain a safe environment for students without resorting to measures like metal detectors or clear backpacks. “Parents see me outside, they see my admin team,” says Swartzlander. “I can’t say that we don’t have any issues. No school is perfect. But we’re able to address a majority of concerns immediately because we’re smaller.” Queen’s Grant’s small size also enabled them to keep students on campus consistently last year while schools across the country went remote for long stretches.
Queen’s Grant’s small size also allows personal attention that leads to undeniable results. Queen’s Grant’s graduation rate was 94% last year compared to 80.3% at Rocky River High School, 82% at Butler High School, and 83.4% at Independence. They’re well above the state- and county-wide graduation rates at 86.9% and 83.6% respectively. For the 19-20 and 20-21 school years, Queen’s Grant had a 96% retention rate.
“The end game is to expand, to grow, and to become a better product,” says Swartzlander, “but even when we grow, we don’t want to grow so much that we’re no longer the alternative.” Ultimately, Swartzlander hopes to move to 600 students once the gym and performing arts center open.
Queen’s Grant High School currently has a waitlist for all four grades for the 2022-2023 school year. To add your name to the list, visit https://www.queensgranthigh.org/admissions/apply-now/.