While Ardmore weighs the pros and cons of a charter school in the city, the Ardmore Rotary Club invited a speaker who’s starting his own to shed some light on what that might entail.
Paul Campbell, CEO of Seminole-based company Enviro Systems, said he approached Varnum Public Schools with the idea to form a charter school last year.
“We’re having a hard time recruiting and retaining folks, and the number one reason by far and away was because we couldn’t get people to move to Seminole because of the education,” Campbell said.
“The average ACT in that county is less than a 20. They weren’t going to move from other states where the scores are 24 and 25. It was either move the company or start a school.”
The school, The Academy of Seminole, will open next year on the Seminole State College campus. Pre-K through 8th grade is based on a classical curriculum, with a focus on reading, and 9th through 12th grade will focus on STEM skills as kids gets closer to graduating. The goal is to get students prepared for college and ahead of the curve.
“We wanted rural kids that would likely never step foot in a college, to start 9th grade on a college campus,” Campbell said. “We’re really advocating for our students to be dual-enrolled in that college so they can get a leg up going into college. It’s much cheaper to do it while you’re in high school.”
Campbell is originally from rural Kentucky, but moved out of state with his family at 15. By chance, he ended up in a much better school district. He said the change probably altered the course of his life.  
“When I look back at my closest friends, one’s dead, one’s in prison, one’s a coal miner and one’s working a factory job,” Campbell said. “There’s nothing wrong with those last two, but those were the only opportunities they had and they were equally as smart as me. So it’s very personal for me in that I know a lot of rural communities have low expectations for rural kids and I want to have high expectations.”
Funding comes from Advance Rural Education, a foundation Campbell started to secure funding for both the charter school and Varnum Public Schools.The Inasmuch Foundation, based in Oklahoma City, and Enviro Systems have contributed.
“We’re seeing millions of private dollars come into the county for education that we would not have seen if not for this charter school, and that’s going to help everyone,” Campbell said. “Our charter school’s going to work with public schools on curriculum.”
He said the idea is to support public education by starting charter schools. If all goes according to plan, grant money from the charter school’s foundation will help fund the school district.
“I’m a huge believer in public schools too, because I don’t think we can solve this problem nationally without a balance of new charter schools and that flexibility that they get to have and putting money into teachers and curriculum development for public schools,” Campbell said. “I’m trying to convince some of these people who only want to put money into charter schools that we can be successful in a traditional school too.”