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Charter school hopeful to file second letter of intent


Inspire Charter School executive director Darren Leach

Inspire Charter School executive director Darren Leach



Sarah Fowler



The group behind Inspire Charter School said it plans to file a letter of intent with the state asking for approval of a charter that would allow it open a school in Columbus. 


The Columbus Coalition for Educational Options said it plans to file a letter of intent by the state-imposed Aug. 15 deadline.  


The group was denied a charter on June 2 by a 7-0 vote by The Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board, but Inspire Charter School executive director Darren Leach said they will try until they succeed. 


"We're working on it as we speak," Leach said Tuesday. "We're very optimistic this round." 


Leach said when the state denied the group's first attempt at a charter, the charter school board provided clear guidelines for what Inspire Charter School needs to accomplish in order to become a reality. 


As previously reported by The Dispatch, a review team that reported to the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board said the curriculum for the proposed Columbus charter school was not detailed enough and did not acknowledge differences between elementary school and high school. Evaluators also warned that Leach, as pastor of the church that would house the school, could have a conflict of interest as the school's executive director.  


Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board member Krystal Cormack said the school was also handicapped by not proposing a principal in its application. Erika Berry, executive director of the Mississippi Charter Schools Association, said the board "struggled" with the fact that the group had not presented a principal. A charter school leader has a plethora of responsibilities, she said, including not only being a principal, but running what is essentially a non-profit organization, recruiting students and teachers, developing curriculum and overseeing staff.  


Another issue, Berry said, was that while the programs the school proposed implementing were "excellent and research-based," they did not appear to be fully supported by the proposed budget.  


She said most charter schools need at least 500 students to be sustainable. The Columbus school's proposed initial enrollment for the 2015-2016 school year was 240, according to the application.  


On Tuesday, Leach did not provide details on how the group is responding to those concerns, but said the group now has a better grasp of what is expected. 


"We actually understand the process a little better," he said. "We were very hopeful in the last one, not really understanding where the measuring stick was. But after going through it and getting the very specific feedback that we did, we understand better how the process works. 


"You know, we've never done this before and certain sections are a little bit clearer now. We had to make sure that our budget and all of those things were aligned. We're still in the process and we've made some decisions on those things now so we're able to give them more definite answers." 


While a principal wasn't named in the first failed application, Leach says he and other school leaders are currently vetting principal applicants. 


"We have a couple of people that we're vetting," he said. 


Leach said the coalition also wants to involve the community. Community feedback is important, he said. 


"We're actually going to open ourselves up to criticism prior to submitting the application. We will allow people to review the application and give us their thoughts." 


At this point in the process, Leach said every day is a learning experience. 


"We don't have it completely mapped yet," he said. "We really want the community to have an active voice in this." 


Leach said a date for a community input session will be announced in the coming weeks.


Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.



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