by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The John W. Pope Foundation has released a new profile of Baker Mitchell, the education entrepreneur and school choice advocate who also serves on the John Locke Foundation’s board of directors.
Baker moved his family to Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1997. As a retired successful entrepreneur, Baker could have spent his free time boating off the beautiful Tar Heel State coast. Instead, he wanted to replicate Dr. Lott’s success.
His method: Charter schools.
“As I happened to read about the charter-school law passed in North Carolina in 1996, I realized that I could do that — by copying everything that [Houston school principal] Dr. [Thaddeus] Lott did,” Baker said.
Charter schools are funded with taxpayer dollars but don’t operate under many of the restrictions imposed on traditional public schools. As a result, demand for students to attend the schools is high, often resulting in lengthy waiting lists.
In 1999, Baker and a like-minded group of volunteers formed Charter Day School, a nonprofit corporation. They submitted an application to the State Board of Education for a charter school in Brunswick County. The school opened in July 2000 with 52 students.
Over the next 13 years, Baker and the board of Charter Day School oversaw the creation of three additional charter schools: South Brunswick School, Douglass Academy School, and Columbus School (scheduled to open in 2014).
“The charter schools quickly morphed from a hobby to an all-consuming endeavor,” he said. “I set up another company, the Roger Bacon Academy, to handle day-to-day management of the schools under the direction of the Charter Day board.”
Today, these schools serve over 1,700 students in kindergarten through 8th grade from six counties. Many graduates go on to enroll in early college programs.
Baker wants to use his energy and charitable dollars to change education for the better — to drive education paradigms back to more traditional, classical methods with their proven records of accomplishment and success.