Just one of the ten applicants hoping to open a new charter school in Mississippi received approval Monday.
The Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board voted to approve Instant Impact Global Prep unanimously at their Sep. 26 board meeting. Four other schools were denied charters at the meeting, two with split votes and two unanimously.
Instant Impact Global Prep will operate in Natchez beginning in the 2023-24 school year. The school will serve grades K-2 in its first year, with the ability to expand to the eighth grade. Their mission statement emphasizes a rigorous STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum as well as emotional development and community engagement. Representatives from Instant Impact Educational Services who will be operating the school could not be reached for comment Monday.
Of the five schools that made it to the final stage of the application process, Instant Impact Global Prep was the only one recommended for approval by an independent evaluator. Clarksdale Collegiate Prep, Columbus Leadership Academy, and both the Tallahatchie and North Bolivar locations of Resilience Academy of Teaching did not meet 100% of the performance standards.
Clarksdale Collegiate Prep would have served grades 7-12 as a feeder for students who currently attend Clarksdale Collegiate Public, a K-6 charter elementary school. Nearly 20 students, parents, and teachers attended the board meeting in person Monday, with four speaking to the board directly in favor of the charter getting approved.
Amanda Johnson, executive director of Clarksdale Collegiate Public, spoke to the board about her confidence in her team’s ability to open a new school and the challenges the school has overcome. She added that the final report from the independent evaluator does not paint a full picture of their school community and its impact on student learning.
When voting on Clarksdale Collegiate’s application, board members were split, with those opposed citing the need for additional planning and concerns regarding the current school’s test data. Jennifer Whitter, a board member who voted against granting the charter, invited the school to apply again in the future but said they were not ready at this time.
After they were denied, Johnson said she is deeply disappointed by the board’s decision, but emphasized that she will be applying again.
“I am not giving up on our kids,” Johnson said. “But because we understand how to open and run a school, we understand that we need the time to plan, which is why we came here today.”
Clarksdale Collegiate Public will also have their charter up for renewal this school year, which Johnson said she anticipates being a challenge.
“It is clearly going to be an uphill battle because of the way the board characterizes our school,” she told Mississippi Today. “We are coming off of a pandemic and this is our first year ever having an accountability score. What we are doing is hard. We get that. We have shown and we are demonstrating that we are willing and able to do that work.”
Despite this, Johnson expressed confidence that they would have their high school operational by the time students reached ninth grade.
The board’s vote was also split for Columbus Leadership Academy, with some board members saying they deserved a chance to prove themselves, but they were also denied. The board was unanimous in their denial of the Resilience Academy of Teaching’s schools, citing concern that the plans were not appropriately thorough.
Grant Callen, CEO of school choice advocacy group Empower Mississippi, said students are being failed by an overly-restrictive board.
“Today, the Board had before them multiple applicants, who in our view, more than surpassed the threshold to be approved to start a high quality charter school,” Callen said. “(We) remain hopeful that in the future a majority of the Board will come to understand that creating more options for more students is an urgent imperative and their primary charge. The children of Mississippi are depending on it.”