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May 2012
Honor & Excellence
By Craig Dixon

     Charlotte Latin School’s mission is “to encourage individual development and civility in our students by inspiring them to learn, by encouraging them to serve others, and by offering them many growth-promoting opportunities.”

     For over four decades, the school has sought to embody this mission in everything they do. Arch McIntosh Jr., who has served as Charlotte Latin’s headmaster since 2001, believes they are succeeding.

     Tucked away in South Charlotte and visibly shielded from the bustling traffic of Providence Road, Charlotte Latin School’s campus more nearly resembles a private retreat with buildings designed of brick, wood and other materials in natural colors that harmonize with the wooded site.

     “It’s part of the charm of the campus,” affirms McIntosh. Charlotte Latin’s reputation, however, is not nearly as low profile. Charlotte Latin School is considered one of the most elite educational institutions in the Charlotte Mecklenburg region.

     McIntosh makes the rounds several times a day to check in on his students and faculty; he has a close relationship with them.

     “A setting like this is very tight-knit; you get to know people. It’s almost like being the mayor of a small town,” he says.

     Charlotte Latin School’s 122-acre campus serves students from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade. The school has three divisions—lower, middle and upper—roughly equivalent to elementary, middle and high school respectively. There’s even a smaller pre-school, The Nest, primarily patronized by Charlotte Latin faculty, but open to anyone.

     Charlotte Latin School doesn’t operate on a block schedule or separate classes by gender. Charlotte Latin sticks with the traditional, shorter-length class—a little under an hour each. Class changes are frequent and the campus is alive with foot traffic from sunrise to sunset; 1,382 students ebb and flow among the 14 major buildings that comprise the campus.

 

Seasoned Leadership

     The son of a first grade public school teacher, McIntosh himself did not attend private or independent schools. A native North Carolinian, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Marshall University, a master’s in education from the University of South Alabama, a Specialist in Educational Administration and Supervision certification from the University of Arkansas, and he was a Klingenstein Fellow at the Columbia University Teachers College.

     Altogether McIntosh shares more than 30 years of educational experience as a teacher, coach, and administrator in the independent and private school community.

     Prior to joining Charlotte Latin, McIntosh served for 13 years, first as head of the upper school, and subsequently headmaster, of Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Ark., one the state’s largest private schools. There, he was credited with repeatedly doubling the student enrollment, enlarging the school’s campus significantly, and holding a nearly perfect record for graduates attending college.

     Under his leadership, Charlotte Latin School has achieved its highest enrollment, beginning the 2009-2010 school year with 1,400 students in transitional kindergarten through grade 12.

     He currently serves as vice president of the North Carolina Association of Independent Schools and a co-founder and member of the board of directors of the Teaching Fellows Institute at Charlotte.

     McIntosh has a keen understanding of the school’s relationship with its parents and students. Not only an experienced administrator, he has three children—two sons, both graduates of Charlotte Latin School, and a daughter who currently attends Charlotte Latin’s upper school.

 

Proud Heritage

     In the late 1960s, a group of Charlotte parents decided to found a new school modeled on New England’s 17th century “Latin” schools. These parents wanted to make sure their children received a strong, traditional academic foundation, which they felt was being sacrificed by the public schools in favor of largely unproven teaching methods.

     In September of 1970, the Charlotte Latin School opened its doors for the first time with 425 students in grades one through nine in two buildings. Today, the student body has more than tripled in size, the number of additions or new buildings more than tenfold, and the operating budget tops $23 million.

     “We’re a more traditional school in what we offer, and we’re unapologetic for it,” McIntosh says of the classical foundations.

     Charlotte Latin School is an independent school and must adhere to standards set forth by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). Independent schools are not funded or managed by government. Charlotte Latin finds most of their operating money by way of tuition fees and additional revenue from gifts which are tax deductible.

     In contrast to the public school system, at independent schools like Charlotte Latin School parents and students are the direct patrons—not the taxpayer—so the relationship is much more intimate. McIntosh believes that creates a distinctive relationship of respect and community not found in public schools: “There are two kinds of parents—reactive and proactive. Ours are proactive, and very involved in the community.”

     Like most independent schools, tuition is not inexpensive and varies by grade level, ranging from $15,350 to $19,250 annually. Various payment plans are available, including a monthly plan that carries no additional fee. Tuition alone can’t cover everything, which is where charitable donations come in. Financial aid is handled through Charlotte Latin’s endowment as well.

 

Cultivating Leaders

     As a condition of enrollment, Charlotte Latin School students are required to follow an honor pledge at all times:

     McIntosh believes the honor pledge to be central to promoting a healthy culture on Charlotte Latin’s campus. “You could put something down—leave a book bag out on the ground for days at a time—come back a few days later, and it’ll still be there. It really creates a sense of safety,” McIntosh boasts. Students are required to write the motto, ‘HONOR ABOVE ALL’ on every graded paper they turn in, keeping the pledge at the forefront of their minds.

     “Because of our small student body,” says Hadley Wilson, student body president, “students at Charlotte Latin are very closely knit. Also, our strong honor code allows us to have a lot of independence as we are trusted to use our free time however we see best.”

     “Our students are pretty self-motivated—they’re driven. We’ve been very intentional about promoting leadership qualities in all of our students, not just team captains and student council members. The Latin school’s founders sought to create a student body of leaders,” McIntosh says of his students.

     Charlotte Latin School’s academic philosophy is based on promoting autonomy, and developing a love for learning. Part of what differentiates Charlotte Latin School from other schools in the region is the highly personalized level of attention each student receives in the classroom, with an average student teacher ratio of 11 to 1.

     Wilson contributes: “Anxiety can result from the rigorous academics at Latin, but the close relationships that students enjoy with their teachers help to alleviate this.”

     College preparation is a large component of Charlotte Latin School’s educational approach, so the school applies the same highly personalized attention in this area as well. “Each of our college counselors works with about 40 students, which is a lot of specialized attention,” McIntosh adds.

     Charlotte Latin School’s academic reputation is also held in high regard. Since 1989, Charlotte Latin School has had 120 students named as National Merit finalists and 18 students named as Morehead Scholars. In addition to its various accreditations, it was honored as the youngest school in the nation to receive a Cum Laude Society chapter.

     Charlotte Latin holds some of the highest standardized test scores in the nation among the student body of the Lower School. In addition, the U.S. Department of Education has awarded Charlotte Latin School the Blue Ribbon School of Excellence award three times.

 

The Soul of the School

     McIntosh says deciding to take the headmaster post at Charlotte Latin School came down to finding a school that had more than just prestige. Charlotte Latin had character.

     “This school had a soul,” he says. “To whom much is given, much is required, and with privilege comes a lot of responsibility, I truly believe that. This school truly has a soul.”

     “We have an incredible volunteer service program. For example, this year the senior class will have given well over 13,000 hours in their four years of upper school, in 70-plus venues around Charlotte,” he notes.

     McIntosh believes that it’s important to be flexible within the community: “One word I like to use is balance. We try to have balance. On our breaks, we don’t assign homework. We have days built into the calendar throughout the school year, ‘No Activity Days.’ At my house those were grilling days at home! We made a family day out of it.”

     Student morale is high around campus, McIntosh reports. “I can’t speak for other schools, but what I can tell you is that our kids our driven, and motivated. That’s part of what we want to instill, to encourage personal responsibility and growth.”

     Students remain active after classes let out, and Charlotte Latin School has a commitment to nurturing interests outside of core subjects as well. Charlotte Latin sponsors over 65 athletic teams in 17 different sports. It also offers support for students interested in the fine arts, with departments devoted to music, theater and visual arts.

     Additionally, the school also offers several opportunities for students to study abroad and has sister schools in Argentina, China, France, Germany, Italy, South Africa and Spain.

     Wilson elaborates, “We value the wide range of extracurriculars available to us, such as athletics and the fine arts, and the opportunity to be well-rounded rather than focused in one area.”

     Charlotte Latin School also has an active alumni community. McIntosh recently hosted New York Giants defensive lineman Chris Canty, a former Charlotte Latin School student who had returned to help operate an after-school football camp.

     Faculty get a lot of attention too, McIntosh says, with training and international study programs dedicated to enriching their value as staff members.

     “We commit one percent of our school budget annually, about $250,000 a year to professional development. It allows us to bring people to campus, and send our faculty around the world. Giving care to faculty is crucial,” he says emphatically. “They are the bedrock of our community.”

     McIntosh’s tenure as headmaster spans over a decade now, and the school has seen notable success under his watch. Even in the midst of Great Recession woes, there has been no drop in enrollment.

     “There’s actually been an increase in applications,” McIntosh says. “Parents are making investment in their child’s education a top priority in light of everything happening economically.”

     Moving ahead, McIntosh says he’d like to see the endowment grow. “We charge a lot of money to go here, and I want more kids to be able to go here. One of my goals is to continue to build our endowment and to create opportunity for more,” he says.

     McIntosh feels very blessed to be involved in the Charlotte Latin School community. “Every day I wake up, I feel fortunate to be a part of this,” he admits. “Every member of this community is privileged, and we try not to lose sight of that.”

     “To me,” says student Wilson, “the key aspect of Latin that makes it so great is that everyone is supportive of their classmates and that there is an attitude of working together to succeed rather than competing. I could not have asked for a better school experience.

Craig Dixon is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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