. . . .Mitchell’s schools are also distinguished from public schools by their different tone. Staff and students pledge to avoid errors that arise from “the comfort of popular opinion and custom,” “compromise,” and “over-reliance on rational argument.” Students must vow “to be obedient and loyal to those in authority, in my family, in my school, and in my community and country, so long as I shall live.”
The schools also use a rigid instructional approach in which teachers stick to a script and drill students repeatedly through call and response. Latin is taught as early as elementary school.
Mitchell’s company has managed the schools’ staffs with similar rigor. A strong sense of hierarchy took root as the schools expanded. When a new corporate office was built to house the management company, teachers jokingly began calling it the “White House.”
From the “White House,” Mitchell and other top administrators could watch teachers in their classrooms via surveillance cameras installed in every classroom, in every school.
During a tour of school grounds with this reporter, Mitchell and the school’s IT director discussed surveillance software called iSpy. “We need to call it something else,” Mitchell offered with a chuckle. “Call it iHelp or something.” Mitchell said the cameras give administrators the ability to observe teachers in action and offer them tips and coaching.
As Mitchell was looking to expand his enterprise in the mid-2000s, he ran into a roadblock. North Carolina, like many states, had been cautious when it first allowed charter schools and had placed a cap on their growth.
By the time Mitchell applied in 2007 to open a charter school in Duplin County, the state was nearing that cap—and his plans fell through when the State Board of Education, deciding among three charter applicants, chose the other two schools to fill the spots remaining that year.
Mitchell wanted to get rid of the cap. Restrictions were being lifted or eliminated in many states, thanks to lobbying from the charter sector and to federal incentives set up by the Obama administration, which awarded states money based in part on their openness to charter schools. Mitchell and others favoring charters pushed for North Carolina lawmakers to follow suit.
In 2011, they got what he wanted. . . .