Charter schools have both committed supporters and staunch opponents, but the idea is so new that most people are just curious and perhaps a bit confused.

John McCarthy, a Canadian expert on charter schools, expects to hear all three viewpoints when he visits Pictou next week.

Dr. McCarthy, a retired school superintendent in Calgary, heads a newly formed non-profit group, the Canadian Charter Schools Research and Development Centre. He is coming to Pictou at the request of a local group trying to stir interest in such schools for their region, and he will speak at a public meeting Jan. 27.

“The first thing to understand is that these are public schools, not private schools,” he says. “A common objection is that they’re for the elite. But that’s a myth. The data show that they get no more elite students than any other school.”

They are, however, schools where parents may get far more say than in a centrally administered system.

That’s what piqued the interest of Luke Young of the Pictou Academy Community Support Group. He’s been active in the fight for a better solution for high schools in the region, and he sees in charter schools an opportunity for community-based quality education.

The meeting, open to everyone, will be held at Pictou Academy High School auditorium at 7:30 next Wednesday.

The Pictou Academy Community Support Group working in partnership with Atlantic Institute for Market Studies to bring Dr. McCarthy to the region. AIMS, with funding help from the Weston Foundation, is sponsoring similar meetings in New Brunswick.

AIMS president Don Cayo says the Institute’s mandate is to foster public discussion of innovative solutions to persistent problems.

“Charter schools aren’t well understood in this region,” he says, “but they hold the potential to involve both parents and teachers in all of the meaningful aspects of children’s’ education.”