Three charter schools advance to final application stage

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Kate Royals, Mississippi Today

State Charter Authorizer Board members at a recent meeting.

Three new charter school operators — seeking to open the first charters outside the Jackson area – have moved to the final stage of the application process.

The Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board on Monday deemed the applications from charter operators Clarksdale Collegiate, Shades of Elegance Corp. and SR1 (Scientific Research) as minimally sufficient and eligible for a more thorough review. The schools would operate in Clarksdale, Sunflower County and Canton public school districts, respectively.

“This is an important day with three applications moving forward to stage three evaluation — that’s a good day,” board member Chris Wilson said after the members voted.

The board rejected an application from KC Schools Inc., which sought to open a pre-K through 12th grade school in South Pike School District, because it did not meet the thresholds in the majority of its application. Disqualifying issues included its proposed financial plan, personnel, startup and student populations information. The group is also seeking to open similar schools in Louisiana, according to its application.

Here are some details on the three programs allowed to move to the final stage of the application process:

Clarksdale Collegiate

Clarksdale Collegiate Public Charter School

Amanda Johnson is the leader of the proposed school Clarksdale Collegiate Public Charter School.

Amanda Johnson is listed as the primary contact person on Clarksdale Collegiate’s application, which details its vision for opening a K-8 school in Clarksdale that focuses on blended learning and college preparation. Its board members include Barbara Logan Smith, the executive director of Teach for America — Mississippi. Johnson currently works as a fellow for Building Excellent Schools, a national nonprofit organization that trains educators in leading “high-achieving, college-preparatory urban charter schools,” according to its website.

In its application, the group says the school “will be unapologetically college preparatory, starting in kindergarten.”

“We envision a Mississippi Delta in which all students are inspired towards, work for, and successfully obtain a college degree, and we envision that work starts with access to a high-quality K-8 educational foundation,” the application states.

The application points out that because the five school districts adjacent to Clarksdale are rated C, D, or F, its students will be eligible to attend Clarksdale Collegiate should it be approved. It proposes to operate with an extended school day from 7:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. and an extended school year of 184 days.

The school said that even at this early stage it has identified 41 potential students and has received 18 letters of support from organizations including Clarksdale Revitalization, Spring Initiative, Mississippi First and Southern Bancorp.

The group has not yet identified a building for the school, according to its application.

Truth Academy STEAM Charter School

Shades of Elegance Corp. is comprised of two educators from KIPP Memphis Preparatory School who are applying to open a K-8 school in Drew. T.J. Graham, currently the math department chair for KIPP in Memphis, would be the executive director while Shantal Johnson, a 7th grade science teacher, would take over as principal. Its proposed board is made up of a current city official, correctional case worker and a CPA and entrepreneur, and the Drew police chief is listed as the sergeant-at-arms.

The school will focus on arts and STEM, or what it calls STEAM (arts-infused science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

“STEM education provides a teaching and learning environment that not only strengthens the skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but also the resources to connect these skills through the core processes of interpretation, communication, analysis and synthesis,” the program overview portion of Shades of Elegance’s application describes. “Our STEAM approach will bring together the critical components of how and what, and blend them together with why.”

“In conversations and interviews with citizens of Drew, it was apparent that there is an interest in reviving the pride that once existed in this small town’s schools. In their words, ‘everything centered around the schools in Drew: the schools were our source of community pride,’ ” the application states.

SR1 College Preparatory and STEM Academy

LinkedIn

Tamu Green, founder of SR1 (Scientific Research)

Tamu Green is the founder of Scientific Research (SR1), a Ridgeland-based non-profit that works to eliminate disparities in education, health and technology, according to his LinkedIn page. Green, a former lead programmer at the Mississippi Development Authority, and Dorlisa Hutton, the COO at SR1, are listed on the school’s application as the proposed president and provost.

According to its educational plan and school design, the K-12 Canton school will provide a teacher to student ratio of 1:13.

“SR1 CPSA believes that its small school atmosphere, coupled with extended school day and summer camp, will provide the attention that an at-risk population, including ELL (English Language Learner) students and students with disabilities needs to succeed,” the application states.

The applicants said they have already engaged with parents and community members who want an alternative to their current options.

“Parents/guardians and key stakeholders have provided input on school curriculum design (i.e. STEM, low student-to-teacher ratio), experiences (i.e. hands on activities, mentors), and positive learning environments (i.e. classroom management, fair and consistent disciplinary policies, passionate educational leadership),” the applicants describe.

Next steps

In the next phase of the process, a team of evaluators identified and hired by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which works with Mississippi’s board, will assess the applications and hold in-person interviews. The team will evaluate each school’s proposed educational program design and capacity; the operations plan, such as the organizational makeup of the school, legal compliance and its governing board; and the financial plan.

The board will make its final decision on which, if any, schools will be allowed to open at the Sept. 11 meeting.

Any schools that are approved would open in the 2018-2019 school year.