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Our History

 
Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy, established in rural Rutherford County, North Carolina in 1999, has become one of the nation’s leading public charter schools. Since 2005 the school has consistently been recognized by U.S. News and World Report, Newsweek magazine and The Washington Post, along with numerous state and federal agencies and governmental departments, for exceptional academic achievement and high standardized test scores by its students. Each year, for the past decade, more than 96 percent of all graduating seniors from the school have enrolled in four year colleges. A number of the school’s alumni have gone on to graduate from America’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning.
 
The history of Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy is primarily rooted in the efforts of one couple, Joe and Georgia Maimone, of Rutherfordton, to provide an academic opportunity for area students that would offer a classical education with an emphasis on Core Knowledge, and with a rigorous college preparatory curriculum. The Maimones’ desire to see the school established was fueled by a determination to help local students succeed academically and to eventually overcome the obstacles of poverty and unemployment plaguing the community.
 
In planning to establish a charter school in Rutherford County, the Maimones held town hall meetings and informational sessions with local community leaders, distributed literature, and devoted many of their own resources to ensure that all state requirements were met. The Maimones submitted a charter application to the state in the summer of 1998, and soon received approval to begin operating a school in August 1999. (1)
 
While the charter application was in process, the newly-formed board of directors for the school sent a request to the Rutherford County Board of Education to acquire one of the county’s abandoned school buildings. After negotiations, the local school board relinquished control of the former Chase Middle School campus (including the original Tri-High School building constructed in 1924) in Avondale, to become the home of Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy. Much effort was made by volunteers, parents, board members and newly-appointed faculty and administration, as well as students, to get the previously abandoned and greatly dilapidated campus ready for its scheduled opening on August 23, 1999. (2)
 
The gryphon, a mythical creature with the body of a lion and the wings of an eagle, was chosen as the school’s mascot and burgundy and gold were chosen as the school’s official colors. From the first day of classes, students have worn official uniforms and have been required to submit to a strict code of discipline and honor. During the first year of operations the school enrolled 150 students. (3) The first graduates of the school completed their coursework in the spring of 2002. (4)
 
In early 2002 philanthropist John Bryan, founder of the Challenge Foundation, a not-for-profit foundation headquartered on the west coast, contributed $110,000 to the school to be used for the creation of science and computer laboratories in a newly-renovated building on campus that had been previously condemned. As an advocate for school choice, Bryan and his wife, Martha, established their charitable foundation in the 1980s  in an effort to provide much needed resources to schools in underserved regions of the country. The Bryan family’s relationship with Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy has grown exponentially since that time as the school has become aligned with a network of other charter schools known as TeamCFA. (5)
 
Later in 2002, the school was awarded a $197,000 technology grant from the State of North Carolina to upgrade electrical wiring and data infrastructure on the campus. A separate grant for $30,000 was also obtained at that time for the purchase of 55 laptops for students. (6) At the beginning of the 2002-2003 school year the school was awarded a federal grant of $23,600 from the United States Department of Education through the efforts of United States Congressman Cass Ballenger. Those funds were used to make improvements to aging facilities on campus.
 
In 2004, Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy was successful in nominating the 1924 building on campus to the National Register of Historic Places. The nomination was prepared by Heather Fearnbach, consultant with the North Carolina Division of Archives and History. The building achieved National Register status on September 1, 2004. Since 1999, the administration and board of Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy has routinely invested funds in improving and updating the campus’s aging main building, while endeavoring to maintain the structure’s historical integrity.
 
As the number of students enrolled at the school continued to climb, an additional academic building was necessary to house grades 10-12. A new $2.1 million dollar facility, with 14 classrooms and labs, a gymnasium, library, and administrative offices, opened on the school’s campus in Avondale on March 21, 2005, to house approximately 225-250 high school students. (7) Continued growth in the student population, as well as an increase in course offerings, resulted in the addition of several mobile classrooms on the campus.
 
During the school’s earliest years all athletic activities for high school and middle school students were conducted on a single field that had been developed in the 1930s. In very short order it was realized that expanded facilities were needed. At a cost of more than $300,000 a new football and soccer stadium was completed in 2008. The creation of that facility was aided by generous in-kind donations of labor and professional services from parents, community-minded individuals, and local business owners.
 
When Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy opened in 1999 the immediate focus was to serve high school and middle school age students. Before the end of the school’s first decade developments began to unfold that allowed the school to expand its offerings to elementary school age students, as well. The Challenge Foundation was instrumental in helping TJCA establish and fund a new grammar extension to the school’s curriculum in 2007 with classes initially held in a leased facility in Forest City, North Carolina. The success and growth of the K-6 program eventually resulted in the construction of a new 52,000 square foot grammar school facility with 32 classrooms and a multi-purpose gymnasium in the Alexander Mills neighborhood of Forest City, as well as improvements to existing facilities in Avondale, at a cost of $9.1 million. Ground was broken for that facility in November 2008, and classes commenced in the new building in March 2010.
 
The addition of the grammar division of the school allowed Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy to maximize its commitment to a Core Knowledge curriculum. The curriculum is a content-rich, spiraling sequence of educational material developed out of the University of Virginia by Dr. E.D. Hirch. TJCA students must meet the requirements for the North Carolina Future Ready Core Course of Study and also complete courses in Latin, Logic, and Rhetoric to fulfill their classical education requirements. In addition, students have the freedom to add elective courses from a variety of different subjects. (8)
 
In addition to academic pursuits, students at Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy have the opportunity to participate in a myriad of athletics and other extracurricular activities. The school is a highly competitive member of the Southern Piedmont Athletic Conference in the NCHSAA-1A division. TJCA athletes compete in football, soccer, volleyball, tennis, cross country, track, wrestling, basketball, golf, swimming, baseball, softball, and cheerleading. Competitive club activities include equestrian competitions, archery, debate, and academic teams on both the middle and high school level. Students publications include a yearbook and an online newspaper. A myriad of other social and service clubs are available to students.
 
The curriculum at Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy incorporates numerous activities and opportunities for students to be involved in the theater arts and musical performance. The school boasts an orchestra with more than 40 students, and regularly produces plays, musicals, ballets, and other performances for the school community and the general public.
 
Today, 20 years after the school opened, TJCA serves over 1,300 students in grades K-12, and employs more than 185 employees, including 136 full-time staff. Construction is currently underway for a new high school facility on the upper campus. That $21 million dollar project includes upgrades to existing facilities on the upper campus and the addition of various athletic facilities to serve both middle school and high school students.  Successful implementation of that plan will allow the school to potentially expand its service range to more than 1,400 students.
 
Submitted by: Robin S. Lattimore - Student Research Coordinator/Upper Campus Librarian
 
Note: Documentation of rankings and data reported by U.S. News & World Report and The Washington Post can be found online.
 
(1) “Charter Approved for New School.” Forest City, NC: The Daily Courier, February 10, 1999.
(2) “It’s Official: County’s First Charter School Opens.” Forest City, NC: The Daily Courier. August 24, 1999.
(3) “Charter School Looks to New Year.” Forest City, NC: The Daily Courier. April 27, 2000.
(4) “Cohen Will be the First to Graduate from TJ.” Forest City, NC: The Daily Courier. November 30, 2001.
(5) “Charter School Gets Labs.” Forest City, NC: The Daily Courier, January 15, 2002.
(6) “Charter School Gets Grant.” Forest City, NC: The Daily Courier, August 29, 2002.
(7) “TJCA Cuts Ribbon on New High School Building.” Forest City, NC: The Daily Courier. March 22, 2005.
(8) Curriculum information and graduation requirements are available on the school’s website.