Amanda Johnson, executive director of Clarksdale Collegiate Public Charter School, reacts after Clarksdale Collegiate’s application for Clarksdale Collegiate Prep was approved during a Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board meeting in Jackson, Miss., Monday, Sept. 25, 2023. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

Students applauded, cried and jumped with excitement at the news that Mississippi’s first charter high school was approved Monday afternoon. 

The school, Clarksdale Collegiate Prep, has been approved to open in the geographic area of the Clarksdale Municipal School District in the fall of 2025. It is an expansion of Clarksdale Collegiate Public, a K-8 public school already operational in the area of the school district. 

Two groups applied this year to open charter high schools in Mississippi, and Clarksdale Collegiate Prep was the only finalist. About 35 students and school employees came to Jackson on Monday to watch the Charter School Authorizer Board vote on the proposal, which had been approved by an outside evaluator and passed unanimously.

Charter schools are free public schools that do not report to a school board like traditional public schools. Instead, they are governed by the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board, which oversees the application process to open a new charter school. They have more flexibility for teachers and administrators when it comes to student instruction, and are funded by local school districts based on enrollment.

Charter schools can apply directly to the authorizer board if they’re planning to open in a D or F district. If an operator wants to open in an A, B, or C district, they need to get approval from the local school board. Clarksdale Collegiate Prep will be opening in the Clarksdale Municipal School District, which is currently F-rated.

This is Clarksdale Collegiate’s second year applying to open a high school after having their application denied last year. Amanda Johnson, the executive director of the Clarksdale Collegiate schools, told Mississippi Today that she believed the school succeeded this time because they were two years out from opening instead of three, which allowed them to be more detailed in their application. 

In her comments to the board asking them to approve the proposal, Johnson talked about her school’s commitment to the success of its students. 

“We’re here in order to make sure we’re fulfilling the promise that we made to scholars back in 2017-18,” she said. “We told (families) we were putting their child on a path to go to and through college. So opening up a high school, even though it’s hard, even though it’s expensive, we believe that work is worthy and that our scholars and the scholars of the Delta deserve the absolute best.” 

When the vote came up on the agenda, board member Jennifer Whittier said it gave her great joy to make a motion to approve the school. 

Students began celebrating immediately after the vote was announced. Johnson said her students have been invested in this application process and have provided input at points, particularly the students who were present as they will be the first graduating class of the high school. 

Johnson said her next steps include announcing the location of the high school to parents and the community, fleshing out the academic plans, and looking at merging the contracts for each school into one in order to reduce duplicates in reporting. Currently, each charter school in Mississippi is categorized by the state as its own school district, but the Authorizer Board is considering a process to allow schools run by the same operator to come under one contract. 

“I’m excited to get started,” she said. 

Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect the geographic location of Clarksdale Collegiate.

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Julia, a Louisiana native, covers K-12 education. She previously served as an investigative intern with Mississippi Today helping cover the welfare scandal. She is a 2021 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied journalism and public policy and was a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. She has also been published in The New York Times and the Clarion-Ledger.