A new charter school is coming to Lexington, and the area is buzzing with questions, opinions, and anticipation. 

Opening fall of 2023, American Leadership Academy is under construction on S Lake Dr (Hwy 6) near Industrial Blvd., just down from I-20. Grades K – 6 will be at the Lower School at 115 Innovation Place and grades 7 – 12 at the Upper School at 107 Innovation Place. 

This is the first of two articles about ALA Lexington. For even more info, check out Learning More about American Leadership Academy.

Rendering of ALA in Lexington, SC

Like most people I’ve spoken to, I learned of the school through Facebook posts and the banner at the construction site. I noticed that the majority of comments on social media were either questions about enrollment or excitement for enrollment. I found it curious that there were little to no questions about staff, teachers, extracurriculars, SpEd supports, and/or curriculum. Things that are usually at the top of people’s concerns, considerations, or complaints about our local public schools, specifically Lexington One. 

I went digging and compiled a TON of information, citations, links, etc to share on a number of topics. 

Information from the website

The one-page of the ALA website specific to the new Lexington, SC location has some initial information, including a welcome section that confirms they are opening fall of 2023 and the summary:

    “Built on a foundation of patriotism and RAISE leadership values, ALA combines academic excellence and character development to create an exceptional educational experience where students can grow as leaders in the classroom and in their community. Students from kindergarten through 12th grade can thrive in a moral and wholesome environment complete with excelling academics, sports, fine arts, extracurriculars, and specialty programs including entrepreneurship and financial literacy for high school students.”

A box in the middle caught my eye as curriculum is at the top of my list of questions. 

“ALA’s highly qualified teachers and staff work hard to engage our students through Core Knowledge (not Common Core) curriculum for comprehensive, in-depth learning.”

Girl smiling with finger pointing up with book on table

This piqued my curiosity even more as it’s commonly thought of as diverse and inclusive in the homeschool world from which I know it, which is great! But even the mention of “diversity” has, in recent years, become connotatively political. 

Almost every parent I have talked to says that the wording of their marketing has been the core of their initial opinion, whether excited or skeptical. Their verbiage (“patriotic”, “moral”, “wholesome”, etc) has, also in recent years, become connotatively political. 

So I kept researching and gathering information. 

female holding coffee while using laptop

I “crashed” an information session

I signed up for the email updates but never really received any information. Once I learned of the information sessions, all 4 published dates were already showing “sold out” on Eventbrite. Never one to give up, I just went. (Turns out that’s totally okay.) 

Dr. Michael Gordon-Smith, School Director, led the meeting and presentation. There were also several board members present and another man from ALA in Arizona whose name I did not catch. 

ALA is a “product”

That was their words, not mine. But it makes sense. They spoke about how the school is a product and compared working with the parents as providing good customer service. By providing this educational product, they want to “operate differently”. 

Construction progress

The buildings are coming along nicely. The Lower School will be 63,000 sqft. The Upper School will be about 73,000 sqft. Quickly looking at the pictures on the screen, I think there will be around 45 rooms in each? Each school, I believe, is two stories. The campus will have a full size football field and baseball field. 

Construction in Lexington, SC of American Leadership Academy

R.A.I.S.E. values & school culture

They went over the R.A.I.S.E. values (respect, accountability, integrity, service, and excellence)  and other information that is on the website.

“We want to provide a rigorous academic curriculum that exceeds state standards. We’ve got a values based education built on our RAISE values. We have a traditional classroom approach. And, of course, a moral and wholesome environment.” – Dr. Gordon-Smith

ALA is a public charter school

ALA is a SC charter school and not operated by the local government school district. It is governed by the Board of Directors that oversees the educational, legal, and financial obligations of the school. The BOD contracts with Charter One to manage and operate the school. 

It is a public, tuition-free school and must follow South Carolina education laws and regulations

Grade 7-12 offers “a full high school experience”, AP, dual enrollment, honors classes, classes on entrepreneurship, leadership, and financial literacy, and a fine arts program. 

South Carolina Statehouse

School culture

Why is ALA so successful, high demand? 

Dr. Gordon-Smith explains, “At American Leadership Academy, we know exactly who we are. We know exactly who we are. We know exactly what we offer. Most educational institutions are driven by the last whim and educational fad. Now there are some tried and true educational policies that we abide by, and we know work. And we don’t compromise on those, because we know exactly who we are, exactly who we serve, and exactly how we want to help.”

Community Impact & Benefit:

  • Best in class education
  • Tuition free public charter school
  • Academic excellence
  • Character Development
  • Exceptional education experience

Building character through building relationships and letting kids know they care.

Questions from the audience

The meeting then opened for questions from the standing-room-only audience, and there were many hands raised quickly. Below is a summary of information based on the answers that were given to audience members’ questions.

Enrollment and the lottery

Open enrollment will run from Nov 15 – Jan 15. Their projected initial enrollment across K-12 is 1925 students. They did not have a clear answer on how many kids per grade. It sounds like it will be slightly flexible based on applications per grade.

If they receive more applications than spaces available, all applications are entered into a lottery. It is NOT first-come, first-served. As long as you apply during open enrollment, it doesn’t matter if you apply Nov 15th or Jan 12th. 

Siblings are not automatically enrolled. They said they realize this would be ideal, but the logistics are just too complicated. However, siblings will be given priority on any waitlists. 

The lottery will be “held” towards the end of Jan. They will then spend several days contacting families who did get a spot. Once that family has been contacted, they have 10 days to decide, complete, and submit all needed documentation. 

In future years, all returning students will be automatically re-enrolled. There is no waitlist for future years that you can join now.

There are no “requirements” to attend other than being an SC resident who can attend public school. 

Teacher at chalkboard in front of class


When asked which high school sports league they plan to join, they said basically whichever one will take them. I didn’t catch a lot of this answer due to microphone issues and room chatter. Something about timing, grace periods. They usually end up in the smaller league the first year they open a school but move to the bigger one ASAP? I apologize for my lack of a clear answer here. 

There was also a question about 1A, 2A, 3A, etc. Which is when he said the total school enrollment will likely be 1925. I have no idea what that translates to in sports math. 

Teacher requirements & class size

As a charter school, teachers are not required to be certified/licensed. They do require them to have a degree in the subject they are teaching. It is important to them that they love kids, love teaching, and are onboard with the idea of building relationships with the students and families.  There are still state requirements they have to follow for teachers.

Class sizes will depend on a number of things such as class subject and which grade. Lower school classes will be smaller. AP, DE, CTE, English are also typically smaller classes. 

“We do have classes that can be as large as 30 and classes as small as 8 sometimes.”
– Dr. Gordon-Smith

While the specific state law was not discussed during the meeting, I’ve included it here. 

SECTION 59-40-50. 

        (5) in its discretion hire noncertified teachers in a ratio of up to twenty-five percent of its entire teacher staff; however, if it is a converted charter school, it shall hire in its discretion noncertified teachers in a ratio of up to ten percent of its entire teacher staff. However, in either a new or converted charter school, a teacher teaching in the core academic areas as defined by the federal No Child Left Behind law must be certified in those areas or possess a baccalaureate or graduate degree in the subject he or she is hired to teach. Part-time noncertified teachers are considered pro rata in calculating this percentage based on the hours which they are expected to teach;

Childcare and preschool

They do plan on offering Before-School and After-School Care. They usually partner with Innovation Learning, which apparently tends to “go wherever we go”. It sounded like they expect them to expand to the Lexington area soon. 

Local ASC programs will be able to pick up kids after school and transport them back to their own locations. 

They do not plan to offer 4K or any preschool programs at this time. They will look into it as they see what parents want or need. 

School calendar and schedule

They will try to follow the calendar of local schools. They are aware that families may have one child at ALA and one child at a Lexington One school. Having the two calendars aligned will be very helpful. 
They will not strictly follow Lexington One for weather/emergency closings. They don’t have the same factors in deciding since they will not have buses transporting children to and from school. 

They do not know exactly what time school will begin and end each day. 


I didn’t catch what the exact question was. But Dr. Gordon-Smith said there is a conduct matrix on the website that stipulates what the discipline process is for each school. Here is a link I found to the conduct matrix for an ALA school in NC. 

He explained that if an incident reaches a “disciplinary hearing”, he is thinking about the promise that he’s made to the families of the school to maintain the moral and wholesome environment. Prior to a disciplinary hearing, he is working with the student and their family to correct or improve any issues and behaviors before it reaches the point of a hearing. And that there are definitely some things that are just a hard line in the sand. 

Parent involvement and school security

Parents are welcome to visit the school for events, assemblies, to volunteer and support a teacher or a class.  If a parent wants to come in and just sit to observe, that will be a conversation as there’s obviously a reason why that needs to be addressed. 

There will be a system in place for security where any parent visitor will check in, have their picture taken, get a visitor sticker or badge, etc for safety. 

They are currently working with (Town of) Lexington Police Dept to contract with them for an SRO. That SRO will follow any LPD guidelines for whether or not they are armed. But they think they will be. 

Supports for students

There will be a gifted program in the Lower School in addition to the honors, AP, DE classes in the Upper School. It was unclear what all that program would include or what the logistics would be. There will be interventionists and other supports available for children who need extra support for reading or other subjects.

As ALA is still a public school, they will provide appropriate support for students with IEPs and 504s. They report to have robust ESS and SpEd programs in their other schools. 

“We want our students to be successful. Our assistant directors are also trained to help our teachers become the best teachers possible, as well. So they work with them to help them provide the needs of the students as help.” – Dr. Gordon-Smith

School books with chalkboard background

Physical textbooks

A parent asked about textbooks versus Chromebooks. Dr. Gordon-Smith said he’s heard this question quite often and is happy to report, yes, there will be text books. The kids will have Chromebooks available in class that they will use from time to time, such as to write papers or take tests online when needed.

Exploratory and elective classes

“We provide as many electives as we can based on the interests of our students.” There wasn’t a clear answer. He gave examples from his previous school where there was interest in robotics so they began that program, equine, etc.

And that concludes the main part of the meeting

At 8pm, they wrapped up the main part of the meeting. They did say that staff and board members would be happy to answer questions individually. As all meeting info said the meeting would be from 7 – 8:30, there was some confusion and disappointment from the parents. But true to their word, the staff and board stayed to answer questions. Some friends and I hung back and chatted while we waited on someone to be available, as they all had been swarmed by parents. After a few minutes, board chair Reese McCurdy was free and happily agreed to talk with us. 

The curriculum question

Upon reflection, I was not nearly as clear as I could have been in my question. This was not hard-hitting journalism over here. 

I brought up the topic of curriculum, and Mr. McCurdy confirmed that the curriculum for the Lower School is Core Knowledge and that everything beyond that is built off of Core Knowledge and the same principles. 

“It’s meant to start down there and work its way through.” 

He acknowledged Core Knowledge is different from what people are used to in local public schools, but believes it’ll change the environment in a positive and productive way. 

I would also like to take a second and thank Mr. McCurdy for his time. He really was just as nice and patient as he could be with me and the other parents asking him questions. The ADHD was in full force that night and he kept up with my fast-talking and topic-hopping like a champ. 

Core Knowledge Curriculum Sequencing and Content

Core Knowledge Curriculum is a content-rich curriculum based on a specific knowledge-building sequence, the Core Knowledge Sequence which was updated just this year. 

“Our original mission, Excellence and Equity for All Children, remains unchanged. The simple, yet powerful underlying premise of Core Knowledge, that knowledge builds on knowledge, still fuels our mission. 

Many of the changes made in this latest edition reflect new findings from cognitive research, current standards, and a concerted effort to incorporate more inclusive representation of the peoples and cultures that have shaped the world into what we know today, while still holding true to the idea there is a body of lasting knowledge and skills that form the core of a strong Preschool through Grade 8 curriculum. This includes the fundamentals of science, basic principles of government, important events in history, essential elements of mathematics, widely acknowledged masterpieces of art and music from around the world, and stories and poems passed down from generation to generation. This explicit identification of what children should learn at each grade level ensures a coherent approach to building knowledge across all grade levels, making efficient and effective use of instructional time.“

One of the highlighted revisions that caught my attention and made my eyes light up (in a very good way) from their email newsletter announcing the release of the 2023 Core Knowledge Sequence:

“Offering a renewed commitment to represent the diverse peoples and cultures of the past and present, who enriched our society:

– Highlighting diverse cultural contributions across subjects and grades in the Sequence not only offers students the opportunity to see themselves in the curriculum, it also builds tolerance and appreciation of people different from themselves. Being fully prepared to engage and communicate with peers within this country and around the world requires a detailed, rich knowledge of the ways in which different civilizations have enriched each other across time. The updated Sequence reflects an effort to include more voices in America’s story and the development of today’s world.”

A strong background of knowledge is the cornerstone for successful learning. Facts, dates, names and events provide students with essential building blocks to understanding literature, geography, history and science – creating a platform on which more complex knowledge can be built. This growing wealth of knowledge to draw on is an invaluable asset for students. It allows them to form reasoned opinions, make convincing arguments, and gain deeper insight into the world around them. 

Having strong background knowledge increases reading ability, interest in school, memory capacity and helps build up their understanding of abstract concepts; all crucial skills needed by today’s thinkers.

The Core Knowledge Sequence provides a grade-by-grade sequence of specific information and topics to be taught in grades K-8 across history, geography, literature, visual arts, music, language arts, science and math.

From the Core Knowledge website

Knowledge-Based Schooling: From Ideas to Practice

Both the realities of cognitive science and the ideals of social justice support the need for knowledge-based schooling. Cognitive science confirms these facts:

  • Children can advance educationally only when they have the expected prior knowledge.
  • They can become better readers only by building extensive knowledge of the world.
  • They can become effective members of the wider society only by sharing the knowledge taken for granted by literate writers and speakers in that society.

Social justice demands that we give all children equal access to important shared knowledge. Only by specifying the knowledge that all children should share can we guarantee equal access to that knowledge.

Learn more about the Core Knowledge Sequence—our effort (and the result of extensive research and consensus-building) to describe and state the specific core of shared knowledge that children should learn in U.S. schools from preschool through grade eight.

Explore the growing body of materials for teachers and students that we have created and make freely available to support knowledge-based schooling.

While Core Knowledge does not openly state it is a classical education model curriculum, it matches the same philosophy. 

“A classical education, then, has two important aspects. It is language-focused. And it follows a specific three-part pattern: the mind must be first supplied with facts and images, then given the logical tools for organization of facts, and finally equipped to express conclusions.

But that isn’t all. To the classical mind, all knowledge is interrelated. Astronomy (for example) isn’t studied in isolation; it’s learned along with the history of scientific discovery, which leads into the church’s relationship to science and from there to the intricacies of medieval church history. The reading of the Odyssey leads the student into the consideration of Greek history, the nature of heroism, the development of the epic, and man’s understanding of the divine.

This is easier said than done. The world is full of knowledge, and finding the links between fields of study can be a mind-twisting task. A classical education meets this challenge by taking history as its organizing outline — beginning with the ancients and progressing forward to the moderns in history, science, literature, art and music.”

  • Susan Wise Bauer, The Well-Trained Mind

Teacher with small group of middle school children

Implementing Core Knowledge at a brand new school

How will Core Knowledge be implemented at a brand new school with children from a variety of educational backgrounds? I have no idea. But Core Knowledge does offer suggestions on their website, and I’m sure ALA has a plan. 

From Core Knowledge:

“Other schools choose to begin a school-wide implementation across all grade levels simultaneously. Schools have been successful implementing in this way by explicitly recognizing that students in the upper grade levels have not benefited from a sequential, grade by grade introduction to the topics of the Sequence; background knowledge that would normally be taken for granted at a given grade level must be explicitly taught. These schools carefully craft their curriculum plans to incorporate time for “back-teaching” earlier topics, building background knowledge that students would normally have already received. You can create a list of prior topics by reviewing those listed for the earlier grades in the Sequence. Another option is to assign summer reading (with parents) from the grader series books. Also, if you have new students transferring into your Core Knowledge school, they should jump right in—you can fill in the missing background knowledge as you would with any new student.”

Other Curriculum

Eureka Math

    “Thoughtfully constructed and designed like a story, Eureka Math is meticulously coherent, with an intense focus on key concepts that layer over time, creating enduring knowledge. Students gain a complete body of math knowledge, not just a discrete set of skills. They use the same models and problem-solving methods from grade to grade, so math concepts stay with them, year after year.”

Everything else

I have no idea what other curriculum they use. However, based on Core Knowledge, all signs point to continuing with a classic educational model which would be building knowledge, content-rich, making connections between subjects and topics, and promoting critical thinking. 

So what is my opinion?

First let me make clear, I think Lexington One is a great school district. Yes, there are areas for improvement. One of which is the disparity among some of the schools. But overall, we have really good schools in Lexington County.

Schools serve entire communities. The children they are educating will become our community leaders, service providers, first responders, neighbors. I’d really prefer my doctor, my electrician, and my council members to be smart, kind, respectful, open-minded people over the next few decades.

There are still gaps in the picture. The administrators and teachers will be a piece. Specific information on what the plan is for children that need extra support. What will the specific exploratory, extra-curricular options be? But I think they still have a long way to go over the next several months and more information will come together as they work towards the next school year. 

Another “time will tell” aspect is their “customer service” with parents. How will they best serve students and handle things when not all parents see eye-to-eye? And honestly, how will parents handle things when they disagree with content or procedures? This is where I believe being an “option” is a good thing. Not that parents don’t have choices now but having an additional “free” public school option could be very beneficial.

I’m still baffled by the amount of eagerness from parents that show little to no indication of doing research beyond the website homepage. Of course, I have no concrete information about what research they have done. But being something of an online sociologist observing patterns and behaviors for over 12 years, especially of those around Lexington, SC, I’d bet money I’m right. But again, time will tell once their children are a few months into school and how they adjust to the “new” content and style.

Overall, I’m optimistic. I’m a fan of classical education. I’m a fan of Core Knowledge and the emphasis on diversity and equity. I’m a fan of the idea of incorporating character building into education and supporting the growth of children academically, socially, and emotionally.

And the political connotation of things that I mentioned about 4,000 words ago? I’m cautiously optimistic and praying that it’s what we need more of – purple. 

This is the first of two articles about ALA Lexington. For even more info, check out Learning More about American Leadership Academy.

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