Mississippi Delta to gain second charter school

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The charter school sector is continuing to expand outside of Jackson — on Monday, the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board approved Mississippi’s ninth charter school to open in Greenwood.

Leflore Legacy Academy will open in the 2020-21 school year as a middle school. The school will serve grades 6-8 by 2023, but open with just sixth grade in its inaugural year.

Charters are public schools that do not charge tuition, and are held to the same academic and accountability standards as traditional public schools. By law, charter schools have the capacity for more flexibility for teachers and administrators when it comes to student instruction. Unlike traditional public schools, charters do not have school boards or operate under a local school district, although they are funded by school districts based on enrollment.

The September meeting was the end of a rigorous process the board goes through annually to vet potential operators.

Eight operators submitted their applications in May, and in June the authorizer board announced that five would move on to the next step in the application process. Four operators made it to the final stage of the application process:

 MS Delta Academies: Leflore Legacy Academy, grades 6-8 in the Greenwood Public School District

• Randy J. Naylor Memorial Foundation: Memorial Preparatory Academy, grades K-6 in the Vicksburg Warren School District

• SR1: SR1 College Preparatory and STEM Academy, grades K-5 in the Canton Public School District

• Mississippi Community Education Center: Greenwood Charter School, grades K-5 in the Greenwood Public School District

This summer an independent evaluation committee examined each applicant’s proposed school plan on the merits of their educational, financial and operations programs and capacity.

The evaluation committee found that only Mississippi Delta Academies met the standard in each area. The school’s founder, Tamala Boyd Shaw, was nearly approved last year but her application needed more detail. On Monday Boyd Shaw told Mississippi Today she was both humbled and elated to earn approval this year.

The process “…taught me that delayed does not necessarily mean denied. Sometimes you have to go back to the drawing board and see what the feedback really said and how you have to work towards getting to the goal,” she said.

Boyd Shaw’s school is the second charter school to open in the Mississippi Delta, and the ninth school to be approved by the authorizer board since the Legislature passed the charter school law in 2013. This year six charter  schools are open in Mississippi — five in Jackson and one in Clarksdale — and two others charters were approved last year to open in the future.

Lisa Karmacharya is executive director of the authorizer board, and acknowledged that trying to open a charter school in Mississippi is an intense and complex process.

“It takes nine months to get through it…. You’re trying to plan for a school to operate and have a lot of unknowns,” Karmacharya said. “It’s a challenging process, so I’m hopeful that as we continue to move through and grow the sector that we’ll get more qualified applicants and we’ll continue to build our presence throughout the state.”