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Proposed Columbus charter school passes first hurdle

 

Darren Leach

Darren Leach

 

 

Jeff Amy/The Associated Press

 

JACKSON -- A group of Columbus residents hoping to create a charter school are a step closer to realizing their goal. 

 

The state's Charter School Authorizer Board voted Wednesday to declare three applications eligible and complete to move forward. They are Reimagine Prep, which would operate grades 5-8 in Jackson; Phoenix Early College Charter School, which would operate grades 9-12 in the Natchez-Adams school district; and the Inspire Charter School STEM & ARTS Scholars Academy, which would operate grades K-6 in Columbus. 

 

"We are excited about being moved to the next phase of the process," said Darren Leach, a leader of the Columbus group. "Now the work really begins." 

 

Of the original 12 groups that had applied, one withdrew. Four didn't provide more information when the board requested it. Four others were rejected Wednesday as ineligible or having incomplete applications. 

 

"They are certainly eligible to resubmit at the next application cycle, which is coming sooner rather than later," Cardin said. 

 

The board plans to start the next round of applications over the summer. 

 

Cynthia Gardner had led a proposal for the Sojourner Truth Academy of Science, Arts and Technology School, which would serve grades K-8 in Carthage. She said that her application was rejected because her organization had yet to get nonprofit certification from the IRS. Gardner indicated her group would reapply. 

 

"I think it was extremely fair," she said of the process. 

 

Evaluators chosen by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers interview the three remaining applicants on May 8. Those interviews will be closed to the public. The Mississippi board has contracted with the national association to help run its process. Cardin said the board wants schools to be frank with evaluators, who will prepare a report for the board. 

 

"It's more out of respect for the individual applicants than anything else," Cardin said after the meeting.  

 

"They may have some information they want to share with us that they don't want to state publicly." 

 

The board also plans hearings to gauge public support in the three communities where schools are proposed. The board plans to vote on approving applications June 2, finalizing contracts with any approved schools later that month. 

 

The board also voted Wednesday to advertise for an executive director, after the 2014 Legislature removed a requirement that the director be a lawyer licensed in Mississippi. Lawmakers appropriated $250,000 to the board, which will allow it to pay employees until the board begins collecting fees from schools it authorizes. 

 

A committee led by board member Chris Wilson of Laurel proposed a minimum requirement of a bachelor's degree for the executive. 

 

"We wanted to leave the door as open as possible," he said. 

 

But the board voted to require at least a master's degree after member Krystal Cormack pointed out that school administrators in Mississippi typically must have at least a master's degree.

 

 

 

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