Charter High School Expansion Bringing Top Notch Educators Home

As you know, our school is expanding to become a full kindergarten through twelfth grade school in the next four years. The upcoming 2021-22 school year will see the addition of ninth grade with tenth, eleventh, and twelfth being added each subsequent school year.

The school has recently added the impressive team of Steve and Debby Kurti to serve as educators and innovators for students both on campus and within our community as well as provide professional development and support to the school as a whole.

Steve grew up in Franklin, NC. He has a PhD in physics, is the owner of several federal patents, and loves to help teens and young adults discover their curiosity, develop skills, and find the value in learning new things.

Debby pursued graduate work in educational technology leadership at Pepperdine University.  For almost 25 years, she has taught everything from kindergarten to graduate school, as well as facilitated hundreds of professional development experiences for teachers. Debby has developed powerful learning strategies backed up by the best research and educational theory.

In 2013, Steve and Debby started a small education company dedicated to “developing REAL Innovators on Purpose”.  Every year since then, they have run an Innovation Tech Camp in Murphy at The Learning Center (except during the 2020/2021 COVID season).  They created summer tech camp programs, teen mentoring programs, and home school creative tech and science classes during the fall/spring semesters.  Their business has kept them mostly in their small town in southern California, but every summer they have taken their tech camps on the road across America (western NC, TN, GA, FL, Washington DC, WI, northern CA, and WA).

Steve is excited to see how applying new educational and technology ideas can prepare the school’s high school students for solid careers both pre- and post-college.  He will be working closely with teachers to create tech laboratories, practical tech experiences, and connections to local and regional businesses for students to explore. 

Debby will bring a strong focus on excellence in teaching and learning.  She will work closely with the already naturally-gifted TLC teachers to do “on purpose” what they have already been doing intuitively. Debby will bring her passion to help every classroom teacher become a catalyst for creativity and innovation. 

Photographer Capturing Story of Our School

The story of The Learning Center Charter School captured the attention of Atlanta based documentary photographer Chris Aluka-Berry and he visited the school on March 29.

Aluka-Berry is a storytelling photographer that grew up in a biracial family in a small rural South Carolina town. For the past four years he has documented life in southern Appalachia in an effort to bring awareness to “Affrilachia” – a term that refers to people of African American heritage who are native to, or live in, the Appalachian Mountains.  

Aluka-Berry is a regular contributor to European PressPhoto Agency and Thomson Reuters News Agency. Berry teaches photography at Pace Academy in Atlanta and works with non-profits and corporations to tell their story.

His work has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and he has worked for the Coca-Cola Company, the Home Depot Foundation, Chik-Fil-A, and more. However, it’s storytelling that is Aluka-Berry’s passion.

“Being a small charter school in rural Appalachia, we were thrilled to be able to work with such a talented photographer as Chris,” said Blu Sky Project Development Director, Mary Jo Dyre. “We serve a diverse set of Appalachian students in our small mountain town and look forward to seeing the story that he captured through his lens as we add value to larger and larger audiences through the unfolding of the Blu Sky Programs and Facility Development Plan.”

Future Engineering Program

Starting in the 2021-22 school year, The Learning Center Charter School will be participating in the Amazon Future Engineer Program. This program provides resources and support to teachers and students in the field of computer science.

The school is expanding to include high school grades.  For the upcoming school year, ninth grade will be added.  Tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades will be added in each subsequent school year.

“The engineering program offered in partnership with Amazon will be a valuable tool we offer both our high school and middle school students,” said Ryan Bender, head of school.  Bender added that the partnership will allow teachers to introduce students to a variety of technological resources.

“This will allow us to introduce the basics of computer science including Scratch coding language,” said teacher Jessie Adams.  Adams is the current sixth – eighth grade science teacher. However, with the addition of ninth grade next school year, she will be the seventh-ninth grade science teacher.  Adams added that the curriculum provided through the partnership will also allow students to explore robotics, artificial intelligence, app development and more.

“We are excited that our middle and high school students will develop these skills and have amazing experiences like virtual visits with Amazon engineers, field trips to Amazon facilities, and ongoing opportunities for real-world experiences,” said Adams.

Learning More About Us & What the New School Year Will Look Like

School starts in less than a month and we appreciate Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce visiting our school, learning more about us, and making this video.

The 2020-21 school year is definitely going to look different for our students but The Learning Center has solid plans in place to offer our families two options for how students can be enrolled, attend school, and receive the awesome E-STEAM, Project Based Learning (PBL), Open Way Learning (OWL) education you expect and rely on.

Visit our website’s FAQ of our Covid-19 2020-21 School Year page to find the latest, up-to-date information about how school will look this fall at The Learning Center Charter School.

Perfect Attendance Recognized & School Meets Expected Growth

Under the direction of Ryan Bender, Head of School in Training, students at The Learning Center Charter School were recognized for perfect attendance for the first semester of the 2019-2020 school year.

“It’s important to honor students that have perfect attendance,” said Bender.  “So much happens each and every day at school and missing days or even hours can be disruptive to a student’s learning.”  Bender added that attendance is important because students are more likely to succeed in academics when they attend school consistently.

Also, the school as a whole was recently awarded the Academic Growth Award Certificate from North Carolina Department of Public Instruction for achieving expected academic progress during the 2018-2019 school year.

Academic growth is an indication of the progress that students in the school make over the course of a school year.

“Our philosophy of education is built upon the idea that young learners need to be exposed to a broad array of rich learning experiences,” said Bender. “Our teachers and students work hard every single day and we celebrate that success.”

More About Charter Schools Across the State

Image from National Charter School Resource Center. Visit to learn more.


Charter schools are public schools of choice that are authorized by the State Board of Education and operated by independent non-profit boards of directors. State and local tax dollars are the primary funding sources for charter schools, which have open enrollment and cannot discriminate in admissions, associate with any religion or religious group, or charge-tuition. Charter schools operate with freedom from many of the regulations that govern district schools, but charter schools are held accountable through the State assessment and accountability system.

Other interesting facts as of January 2019:

  1. 109,389 students are being served by 185 charter schools across North Carolina.
  2. That represents 7.3% of the total public school population.
  3. 50% are female and 50% are male.
  4. 35 applicants to open a charter school are currently being reviewed by Charter School Advisory Board.
  5. The number of charter school exceeding growth increased from 36 to 46 last year.

Visit the Office of Charter Schools to learn more about charter schools across North Carolina.

What is a Charter School?

What Are Public Charter Schools?

Charter Schools are nontraditional public schools. One of the key differences between charter schools and traditional schools, or district schools, is the way they are governed. District schools are governed by a school district board while Charter Schools are governed by a board specifically for that school. As a result, these schools have more flexibility in their curriculum. This explains why you hear of some Charter Schools with a focus on the arts, science, technology, a certain culture, or a certain educational methodology (i.e. Classical, Montessori, Flipped Classroom). However, because Charter Schools receive public funds, they are still required to meet state testing requirements.

How Are Public Charter Schools Funded?

Charter Schools receive a per pupil allotment from the state, and they receive local funding from each student’s base school district.

Charter schools are eligible to receive funding for children with disabilities and limited English proficiency based on the actual population of such students in their school. Charter schools receive federal funds according to the same formulas as school districts. Unlike district schools, they receive no funding for facilities, buses, or food.

Report Shows Favorable Results for NC’s Charter Schools

The annual report on public charter schools published by the NC Department of Public Instruction found that charter school students outperformed their district school peers in several areas.*

  • More than 70% of charter schools met or exceeded expected growth.
  • A higher percentage of charter schools earned a School Performance Grade of an A or B.
  • A higher percentage of charter school students scored a level three or above on the statewide assessments.

*NC Department of Public Instruction, Report to the General Assembly Charter Schools Annual Report, February 2018.

Academic Growth Award


The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has awarded The Learning Center Charter School their Academic Growth Award for 2016-2017.  This is it’s first year presenting awards for achieving and exceeding expected academic growth.

Academic growth refers to academic progress made over a period of time.

Academic growth represents an impressive amount of hard work by students and educators and our school is proud of this recognition!

What exactly is a charter school anyway?

(This post originally appeared on August 30, 2010.  However, it bears repeating now and again.  Be sure to be up to date on all things happening in charter law both in our state and across the nation.  How?  Use the category drop down menu located in the side bar on the right and choose “Charter School Updates” to see all posts relating to the subject.)


How many of you have been at a summer cookout and have been asked, “I know your kid goes to the charter school over there down from the pool.  What exactly is a charter school anyway?”  How about at Thanksgiving dinner when all your distant relatives are together?  Doesn’t someone invariably ask you to tell them what makes a charter school different from other schools?  I’ve even been asked by the check-out person at the grocery store when they see my kid’s school t-shirt.

So, what do you tell them?

Wikipedia says that,

A charter school is a school that receives public money (and like other schools, may also receive private donations) but are not subject to some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results, which are set forth in each school’s charter.  Charter schools are opened and attended by choice.  While charter schools provide an alternative to other public schools, they are part of the public education system and are not allowed to charge tuition.


Um.  Well.  Okay.

What are you going to tell Great Uncle Earl when he asks what a charter school is at your next holiday get together?

A charter school is a public school of choice. It is public.  Public means no tuition.  In other words, it’s free.  And, you choose to go there.

A charter school offers innovation in education. A charter school has to meet the same state academic standards that every other school has to meet.  However, the school itself decides how it’s going to achieve those standards.

Now you know.

So go forth and educate the world.  Or at least your immediate community