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National Heritage Academies Celebrates 26 Years of Making a Difference

Haley Brink  |  May 14, 2021

The birth of his son sparked J.C. Huizenga to think about education through the eyes of a parent. He believed that every child should have the opportunity to have a great education and that schools should be held accountable to produce results, so he opened the first National Heritage Academies (NHA) school, Excel Charter Academy, in 1995.

May 9-15 marks National Charter Schools Week and the 30th anniversary of the first charter school law, which allowed publicly funded, privately managed, and semi-autonomous schools of choice. This special week is a time to reflect on the impact NHA has made and what keeps people rooted at the organization.

NHA has been in the business of making a difference in education for 26 years. The organization is now operating 90+ public charter schools across nine states serving over 60,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

In Excel’s 26-year history, Dan Bartels has been with the school for 24 years. Starting as a middle school math teacher, he became assistant principal after eight years, and has now been leading the school for 12 years. Bartels is also a proud Excel parent – all four of his children have attended the school.

“I have appreciated NHA over the years because of the commitment to student learning, growth mindsets, Moral Focus, and care for others,” said Bartels. “Having high care and high expectations is something that sets NHA apart.”

Then take Christy Spurrier, principal at Matthews Charter Academy, who has been with NHA for 20 years, previously serving as principal at Chandler Woods Charter Academy and Queen’s Grant Community School, both in the NHA network. Spurrier’s daughters, Jillian Fairfax and Jenna Morrin, attended an NHA school and have since followed in their mother’s footsteps by becoming teachers at Queen’s Grant, the school Spurrier’s granddaughter now also attends. To Spurrier’s family, NHA has become a family tradition.

NHA’s Moral Focus curriculum teaches virtues like respect, integrity, perseverance, and courage daily to build strong moral character to help students grow up to be successful. Spurrier believes Moral Focus is what makes NHA unique.

“That is what I wanted for my kids, and it’s what our society needs,” she said. “These values are woven throughout the course of the day, and from the beginning, I believed in what NHA set out to do. We offer a choice in public education. I’ve had the opportunity to watch students grow up and witness them becoming productive members of society. The education provided at NHA played a vital role in that.”

Bartels’ and Spurrier’s reasons for staying rooted with the organization’s mission showcase the NHA difference. 

“At our core, NHA exists to change the lives of children through education,” said Brian Britton, Chief Executive Officer at NHA. “We also infuse a Moral Focus approach into our curriculum that empowers students to become citizens of their community. That’s the NHA difference. We are so proud of our educators and students, and cannot wait to see what the next 26 years will bring.”