HUNTERSVILLE – A name, a head of school and a masterplan for a campus created to inspire young people to reach their potential are among the signs the Aspire Carolinas Foundation is progressing toward a scheduled fall opening.

In a combination announcement this week, Aspire representatives announced all property for the multi-faceted education campus in Huntersville has been acquired and long-time education advocate and philanthropist Dale Halton will be honored as the namesake for the unique complex. Veteran educator Heidi Bertino-Daum has been hired to lead the school.

The Halton School, created for students on the autism spectrum, will open this fall in renovated historic structures on the campus in the northwest corner of the Hambright Road-Beatties Ford Road intersection. Complete information about the private school, which will serve students in grades 3-6, is available at Admission details and enrollment applications will be on the website by the end of February. Applications will be accepted starting March 4.

The Halton School is the first piece of a campus that will eventually include a private K-12 school for students with learning differences (LD) and a public 9-12 charter high school focused specifically on technical, trade and career training.

The Halton School

Renovations are in progress to prepare the existing house on campus for this fall’s opening. The historic Barnette and McCoy houses, both dating back to the 1880s, were combined on the property in the 1980s. When complete, the school will have approximately 8,000 square feet of space while maintaining a home-like setting ideal for students in the autism spectrum.

Jennifer Nichols, executive director of Aspire Carolinas, said previously that the idea for the school began to take shape years ago as the group that formed the Aspire Carolinas Foundation explored the need for enhanced programs to serve the wide range of LD students.

Naming the school after Halton, who has supported a wide range of educational advancements in the region for decades and is affiliated with many programs at UNC-Charlotte, recognizes Halton as a driving force in starting the Aspire Foundation, which had the sole purpose of opening schools to serve children with learning challenges.

“It is just a real honor,” Halton said. “I am excited about what we are doing. I was surprised when she (Nichols) asked about the name, but pleased to be a part of it.”

“I have begun to feel so passionately about this school and the opportunities it will provide,” she added.

She said there is “such a need” and believes the school for children on the autism spectrum will help families who have struggled to “find the type of environment and learning opportunities their child needs.”

Halton said many people think her ties to UNCC are limited to athletic programs (Halton Arena on the university’s campus bears her name), but her interest has always been providing educational opportunities for all young people who might, otherwise, not have access to the training and experience needed to reach their potential.

She also supports the business and international studies programs at UNCC and said the goal of presenting opportunities to students in all fields is similar to the objectives of the Aspire campus.

“We will be helping expand views about careers,” Halton said, specifically referencing the 9-12 trade charter school that Nichols said will be the first of its kind in the state.

“Not everyone needs to go to college,” she said. “That’s the mindset of an earlier generation. But there will be opportunities here for special needs children, and perhaps young people who just don’t do well in a traditional school setting, to get the technical and career training they deserve.”

Head of School

Bertino-Daum is moving to The Halton School from her position as program specialist for autism, behavior and extensions curriculum with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Bertino-Daum has a Master of Education degree in special education from Penn State University and more than 15 years of experience working with challenged learners in Illinois and North Carolina. She lives in Huntersville with her husband and two daughters.

Fundraising continues

A large part of opening the Aspire campus has involved spreading the word about the educational programs for LD students and generating financial support. Nichols announced this week that the ABNO Group is partnering with Aspire Carolinas to do targeted corporate fundraising to assist with the next phase of the project. The group will be working primarily in the greater North Carolina area while the Aspire board of directors and Nichols focus on local fundraising efforts.


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