Tony Montgomery, Kenneth McFarland and Darren Leach, some of the organizers of Inspire Charter Schools, stand outside Genesis Church in Columbus Friday. The state will vote on approving a proposed charter school for Columbus on June 2. Photo by: Mary Alice Weeks/Dispatch Staff
May 17, 2014 11:04:24 PM
In less than three weeks, local charter school hopefuls will find out whether Columbus' Inspire Charter School will be opening its doors this fall.
On June 2, The Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board will make a final review of application finalists ICS, Reimage Prep in Jackson and Phoenix Early College Charter School in Natchez and make a decision on granting charters.
Local Pastors Darren Leach and Tony Montgomery are leading the charge for bringing a charter school to Columbus.
Leach, who is listed as ICS's executive officer on the school's application to the state, and Montgomery both currently have children in the Columbus Municipal School District.
In a Tuesday interview with The Dispatch, both said they decided to bring a charter school to Columbus to offer better options to students. In the school's application, they note that CMSD has been rated a "D" by the Mississippi Department of Education.
"Darren and I are both parents, that's where it starts," Montgomery said.
Leach echoed Montgomery's sentiment and said he felt the current environment in the Columbus district wasn't encouraging children to question
"As I look at the culture at the middle school and the culture at the high school, it's almost like trying to grow exotic plants in a cold climate, it just doesn't work that way. You've got to get the climate right so that the kids can be developed."
Leach said the format for the charter school is simple.
"What we're hoping to do with this program is simple. We're expecting to raise the expectations really high of our children and then equip them to meet those expectations and not let up until they do what they're supposed to do."
The school's application indicates plans to initially offer kindergarten through third grade classes as well as a ninth grade.
There will be two kindergarten classes, two first grade classes, two second grade classes and two third grade classes. Each classroom will have a cap of 20 students. Ninth grade will offer four classes, each having a cap of 15 students per class, according to Leach.
The school will rent space from Genesis Church, where Leach is currently the pastor. According to their application, the school will pay Genesis Church $1,750 a month the first year and $3,500 a month the second year.
Leach said if housing a school inside a church becomes a problem with the separation of church and state, the church body will move elsewhere.
If Inspire Charter School is selected and receives its charter, Leach said the school would serve as an after-school program for the 2014-2015 school year. Classes would begin full-time in the fall of 2015.
Each year, the school plans on adding a grade, allowing existing students to continue their studies without changing schools. For example, in 2016, the school will add grades four and 10. In 2017, they will add grades five and 11 and so on.
According to the school's application, they plan to have 120 students in the after school program for 2014-2015. Once actual school starts in 2015, the number of projected students jumps to 240. They expect to have 320 students in 2016-2017, 360 in 2017-2018, 380 in 2018-2019 and 400 by their fifth year in 2019.
According to the application, the school's curriculum will focus heavily on arts and STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math.
The application reads: "Since students will be required to communicate effectively in the classroom as well as the workforce, there is a considerable amount of writing in this curriculum. The finance portion of this curriculum provides several opportunities for focus in mathematics as it requires several calculations and critical thinking. Additionally, the CAD unit gives students experience with drawing, scale and measurement."
In 2014-2015, the school expects to bring in $1,330,000 based solely on grant money. When classes begin for the 2015-2016 school year, the school has a projected revenue of $2,324,000. The projected revenue jumps to $3,740,000 by the 2019-2020 school year.
A large part of ICS's revenue will be from the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which funds schools per child. With 240 children in 2015-2016, ICS expects to receive $1,056,000 from the state. They expect to receive $516,000 in federal revenue, $552,000 in local revenue from ad valorem tax and $200,000 in grant funds, according to the application. Minus grant funding, the revenue ICS receives would otherwise go to CMSD.
Leach said until the school is approved by the state, they would not hire teachers.
The school's application says principal selection will be completed by May 2014.
While Leach said staff has not yet been selected, former CMSD schools superintendent Martha Liddell is listed as the main contact person on ICS's application to the state. She also serves on multiple planning committees for the school. She is not listed as a school board member.
Liddell was last year relieved of her duties as CMSD superintendent after it was discovered she used school funds for a personal event.
Pastor Steve Jamison will serve as the board president while Montgomery will serve as the vice president. Other board members include Christiana Chunn, Dr. Stanley McCrary, Luberta Taylor, Drake Basset and Ruby Jackson.
Leach said students and community members have expressed interest in attending the school with many signing letters of intent.
As part of the state's requirement, the charter school's enrollment must be at least 80 percent of the percentage of under-served students in CMSD. Under-served children include those who qualify for free lunch and those who receive special education services.
According to the school's application, 88 percent of CMSD students are considered under-served. Since 80 percent of 88 percent is 70 percent, ICS's enrollment must be made up by at least 70 percent of under-served children.
Students must also live inside the city limits.
Leach said if the school receives more than 240 applications a lottery will be held.
Once the school reaches capacity, students will be put on a waiting list. When a spot opens, a name will be chosen at random.
"It may literally be us pulling names out of a bowl," Leach added.
Leach and Montgomery say they are both anxious for the June 2 meeting but are hopeful the school will be granted a charter.
"It's just a waiting game right now," Leach said.
Tuesday, the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board will be in Columbus for a public hearing. The hearing will be held at Genesis Church, located at 1820 23rd Street North, at 5:30 p.m.
■ APPLICATION: View the Columbus charter school application online at bit.ly/1nUOPq3
Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
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