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. 

Meet Our Teachers – Jay Ward

As part of our ongoing series called “Meet Our Teachers,” here is what Ms. Jay had to say:

Hello beautiful people! My name is Jay Ward; I am married with 2 grown kids, a granddaughter, and another grandbaby on the way. I graduated from Campbell University, Buies Creek NC, with a Bachelors in Elementary Education (K-6) in 2009. I taught for 3 years in Harnett County, NC as a 5th grade teacher then switched to 3rd grade. I moved to Murphy in 2011 and was hired as a 5th grade teacher here at TLC shortly after. I have taught 5th, 3rd, 4th Writing, 6th Math/Science,and 7th Math over the years. I currently teach the 6-8th Middle School regular Math classes. 

My favorite teaching is STEM/ STEAM/ PBL (project based learning) where I can incorporate a topic/idea like the Titanic and include all subjects into that topic.  I also love teaching coding, 3-D printing, and Computer Technology. Incorporating hands-on/ real world activities into the classroom will get our students ready for their future in Society and makes learning fun!

Meet Our Teachers – Cheryl Catuto

Meet Cheryl Catuto! Here is what she had to say.

My name is Cheryl Catuto.  I am the School Success Coordinator at TLC.  My family and I moved to Murphy in 2006 from Cape Coral, FL where I joined the TLC staff.  While working here, I have taught 2nd-6th grade and PE. I am currently in my 19th year in education. My husband, Mike, and I are blessed to have two amazing kids, Carlee (an alumni of TLC) who is a sophomore at TCEC and Tony a 5th grader at TLC.  Mike, Mr. Sean and I started TLC’s very first sport, the TLC Wrestling Club.  I am certified in Elementary Education and Physical Education, but my favorite subject to teach is Math.  In my current role, I handle all of our testing for state tests, MAP testing, teacher licensure and anything else that is needed.  I love analyzing data and making plans to improve our school and help our amazing TLC teachers.  Some fun facts about me: I hate bananas because the smell makes me sick, my favorite color is teal, I love Harry Potter, I coach a muggle quidditch team and I have a sweet little dog named Bella.

Meet Our Teachers – Monica Matthews

Here is what Ms. Monica had to say:

Hi my name is Monica Matthews. I have lived in this area since I was in 3rd grade. I went to Union Co schools until 7th grade then went to Nantahala School where I graduated. I have always wanted to be a teacher! I went to college at WCU for my undergrad and masters in education. I started my teaching career at The Learning Center and have had the pleasure of teaching Kindergarten-8th grade students. I am now working as the EC coordinator for the school. I love working with teachers, families, and students to find the best ways for them to learn. I love that TLC has gardens and lots of outdoor spaces that learning can take place. I enjoy partnering with the community for projects at school. Currently the EC department is partnering with a local artist to create a sensory trail. I have a 1 year old son and enjoy spending time outside with my family. I also love to dance! I have been clogging for over 20 years. I enjoy teaching others to dance as well and look forward to continuing my clogging club at TLC. 

Meet Our Teachers – Katie Grider

This is what First Grade teacher, Katie Grider, had to say:

Hello, my name is Katie Grider. I am living my dream of being a first grade teacher each and every day! Ever since I was six years old and in the first grade, I wanted to be a first grade teacher. My teacher at the time, Mrs.Black, greatly inspired my love for learning and children. I want to inspire, love, and encourage all of my students, just as she did for me.

I have been teaching at The Learning Center for four years and absolutely love it! Each year that I have taught has been in the first grade.

I am also a mama of an amazing 6 year old named Scarlett. She is my best friend and my ray of sunshine. I love seeing the world through her and all my students eyes! They teach me as much as I teach them.

I look forward to many more fantastic years of being a teacher! 

Meet Our Teachers – Kim Rhodes

Here is what Ms. Kim had to say:

My name is Kim Rhodes and I teach reading and math intervention at The Learning Center. My job is really fun because I get to work with all grade levels in a small group setting. This allows me to really get to know the students on a more personal level and see them grow in their learning.  I was born and raised in Murphy, NC. I graduated from Western Carolina University in 2011 and then moved away in 2012 as my husband pursued a career in the United States Marine Corps. We returned to Murphy in 2019 and I was so excited to join the TLC Family. My husband Isaac and I have 3 boys; Tatum age 7, Camden age 2, and Kai who is 7 months. It can get a little crazy at our house with 3 boys, two dogs and a leopard gecko, but I wouldn’t have it any other way! A fun fact about me is that I love sea turtles. I have gotten to see several sea turtles graduate from a rescue and rehabilitation center after being severely injured, and swim back into the ocean. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget!

Head of School Becomes HundrED Ambassador

In the two years that Ryan Bender has been Head of School at The Learning Center Charter School, he has been committed to innovative education and weaving it into all that he does at the school. 

Under Bender’s leadership, the school became a certified Open Way Learning (OWL) Academy in September 2020.  OWL is a nonprofit organization with the singular mission to help schools develop, sustain, and grow cultures of innovation that better prepares students for our modern world and workforce.  According to, OWL is a framework that encourages educators to create, modify, and share best practices to help education keep pace with a rapidly changing economy, society, and environment.

Bender was introduced to the HundrED movement through the OWL Academy connection. HundrED is a global education nonprofit organization which seeks and shares inspiring innovation in primary and secondary education.  

“I was accepted as a HundrED ambassador and this distinction connects our school to resources and innovative education happening across the globe,” said Bender.  “This benefits our school by linking resources for Professional Development for teachers as well as more educational resources for our students.”

“The voluntary HundrED community comprises over 600+ teachers, school principals, education consultants, professors, parents, and students from over 90 countries,” said Bender.  “This network of educators helps identify what works in schools and collaborate to drive change on the local level.”

Bender added that the HundrED program is in line with the school’s OWL philosophy of free and open-source access.  “Engaging in shared vision, collaboration, and the free exchange of ideas ensures that our school will continue to create customized solutions for our students and community,” said Bender.

How Teachers Spent Their Summer Break

Teachers and staff at The Learning Center Charter School have spent the last several weeks prepping classrooms, campus and curriculum for the start of the new school year this week.

Annual Parent Fair at The Learning Center Charter School

Ryan Bender, Head of School in Training, pointed out all the steps necessary to get ready for a new school year.  “Building and site maintenance is crucial during the summer months,” said Bender.  “More importantly, however, our teachers spend much of their summer break attending training in order to be sure our school continues to offer an outstanding academic program.”

Bender said that some of the most exciting training teachers experienced this summer was OWL trainingOWL stands for Open Way Learning and is the brainchild of local educators Ben Owens and Adam Haigler. This way of teaching/learning has been the foundational approach at Tri-County Early College High School. 

According to, “Open Way Learning (OWL) offers a set of principles that can transform schooling through leveraging the power of open communities. It is a framework that encourages educators to create, tweak, and share best practices to help education keep pace with a rapidly changing economy, society, and environment. OWL encourages educators to prioritize shared vision, distributed leadership, collaboration, freely exchanged knowledge, and innovation in creating customized solutions for their learning communities.”

“Tri-County Early College High School has an impressive and proven track record of success,” said Bender. “We are here to take this revolutionary educational model to the kindergarten through eighth grade level.”

To learn more about the Community of Learners at The Learning Center Charter School, visit or call 835-7240.

#OpenWayLearning  #OpenUpEducation

Annual School Round Up Feature in the Cherokee Scout

Each August, our school is featured in the special edition section of the paper from the Cherokee Scout called the Annual School Round Up.  It’s always a wonderful summary of all the great things happening on campus and the vast array of programs and services available for your students.  Take a look…

The Learning Center Charter School, a tuition-free public charter school, continues to break ground with high-quality offerings in 21st century education. On-going facility improvements are designed for rich academic opportunities on this “future-ready” campus.

The Learning Center Charter School offers an E-STEAM (Entrepreneurship, Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts/Agriculture, and Math) learning environment.  Students are exposed across the curriculum to 3-D Printers, robotics and coding. The school’s education philosophy includes the belief that all young learners have the right to experience a broad, rich, and rigorous range of academics during the formative K-8 years. Additionally, the school offers an award-winning nutrition program, daily P.E., unique electives and extra-curricular opportunities. The school’s emphasis on healthy living, community involvement and high academic standards is designed to produce future-ready citizens. This tuition-free public charter school (K-8th) has NO district restrictions and accepts students across all counties.

The Learning Center’s Montessori Blend Kindergarten program has proven to be a strong approach to instruction for even the youngest learners. “We’ve had consistent success with the feeder Montessori Program that is located on our school campus,” said school director in training, Ryan Bender.

The school’s programs include Compacted Math classes for accelerated math students, daily PE for all grades, a highly developed drama program, and frequent garden-based learning opportunities across campus and in the school’s Outdoor Learning Center. The upper grade’s CREW Program, in its fourth year of operation, promotes character development, goal setting and responsible behaviors.

More extras including National Junior Honor Society, wrestling team, ARTrageous and artists-in-residency program, “Mini and Middle REAL” young entrepreneur program and AIG After School Program provide students with the opportunities to become all they can be.  The school will field a soccer team this fall and looks to expand their sports program to include cross country as well.

Designated as a “USDA Healthier U.S. School” (Silver Level), The Learning Center Charter School places a strong emphasis on its nutrition and exercise programs. The school also has a free breakfast and lunch program available for ALL students.

The charter school serves approximately 200+ students and is open to both in and out-of-county students. There is no tuition for grades K through 8th. The school also features a Montessori private preschool, serving ages 3-5 years. After school programs are available for all ages. Summer Enrichment Programs such as Innovation Tech Camp and intervention programs are also offered.