Accolades are outgrowth of civic-minded mission at Raleigh Charter High School

RALEIGH — “All the students are so driven, and it’s infectious on us.”It’s easy to see why 16-year-old Mariama Morray, a junior at Raleigh Charter High School, feels that way. Walking through the hallways and into the classrooms of the 560-student high school offers a glimpse of why several media outlets — U.S. News & World Report, The Washington Post, and others — have named Raleigh Charter in Wake County as one of the top schools in the country. “It’s really all about citizenship,” principal Lisa Huddleston said. “Everything we do, in our choices that we make, is about how do we create a strong academic environment that helps empower these kids to become contributing citizens.”The school is one of the hottest tickets in academics in the state, and with good reason. U.S. News & World Report said RCHS had a College Readiness Index of 93.3 percent, with 96 percent of students taking an Advanced Placement test and 97 percent of those passing. But Huddleston said preparing the students for college and beyond isn’t about striving for high scores and national rankings. The community fosters the growth of the students — the accolades and successful results are simply a byproduct. “In my mind, it’s kids like that, that think so critically and are willing to go so deep,” said teacher Barbara Soloman, who came to RCHS 16 years ago from NC State. “But fortunately what ends up happening is we have developed a culture. So the kids who come in and are not used to it learn the expectations from other students.”Any student in N.C. can apply to a charter school, and Huddleston said RCHS has had parents come from as far away as Vance County — a 90-minute commute — to have their children attend the school. The state has 167 charter schools for the 2016-17 school year, after the cap on them was lifted by the N.C. General Assembly in 2012. More and more families are now choosing options besides traditional public schools, like charter and private schools or homeschooling.For those that get in to RCHS — this year only 86 of 1,197 students who applied were accepted, along with 64 siblings of current or former students — there are sacrifices that come with attending a charter school. Raleigh Charter, for example, doesn’t have a cafeteria, gymnasium or its own athletic facilities. N.C charter schools operate on less than 70 percent of the state money that a traditional public school gets, because charters do not get government construction funds or N.C. Education Lottery money. Often, charters will supplement with grants and private donations. Furthermore, pinpoint-specific electives that are offered at magnet schools like nearby Enloe High School aren’t possible at RCHS.”I think that it’s hard for one school to be all things to all people, and I think part of what’s behind the charter school model is our recognition of that,” Huddleston said.But the teachers, students and administrators all seem to agree the school’s focus on molding civic-minded students shines through not only on the report cards, but in the community.”Just the vibe is different with Raleigh Charter,” Morray said.