New world needs close attention

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, January 9, 2013

An interesting new door swung open in the Miss-Lou Friday, and, like the children who walked through the wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’ famous writings, we are about to enter a whole new world.

It could be cold and snowy yet never Christmas or it could be a wonderful, bright world with a loving leader.

It’s simply too early to make predictions.

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The seemingly inevitable opening of the Delta Charter School in Ferriday likely won’t change life forever in the Miss-Lou. The school will probably be small for years to come and will draw from only a portion of the population.

But it’s what the school represents that signifies an unknown world.

The school is the first charter school to make significant steps toward opening in the area — at least in recent history and by our modern-day definition of charter schools.

Groups, individuals and even married couples have proposed the idea in Natchez before, but that was before they realized state law prohibited it.

Others have toyed with creating a charter school in the parish too, but never made it past the first step of seeking approval from the local public school district.

Delta Charter didn’t get that local approval either, but pursued other means and, Friday, got final approval to open next year from a federal judge.

At the same time, Mississippi legislators say the idea of allowing charter schools in this state will be one of the hottest topics in the legislative session that started Tuesday.

The same idea failed last year.

Charter schools have some loyal, fervent supporters. And they have their haters.

For the rest of us, the entire idea seems far too unproven to have an opinion one way or the other.

No doubt, some charter schools — especially in larger cities — have found unprecedented success at educating children who were failing in public schools.

But the very nature of a charter school means one school doesn’t have to be like the next. The schools don’t have to follow federal accountability standards in place in the public districts, which means a charter school on one block could be spectacular while the one across the street is an extreme waste of public money.

That’s what makes our future unknown.

Yet still, the wardrobe door is open, and we are walking through. We’ll take with us money from the local public schools.

Like many things, perhaps we’ll never know what the new world holds until we explore. Charter schools, which are still relatively new in the grand scheme of education, are bound to improve as we go along. Laws regulating them will likely ramp up as well, since the expenditure of public funds must require accountability.

But for those first beautiful children to tumble through the door into Narnia, there must be a watchdog, almost an Aslan.

Practically speaking, it will be up to the parents who opt to send their children to the Delta Charter School to closely monitor what occurs at the school. Some parents will be professionals at such a task, while others are less involved.

Childhood is too short and the new world too unknown to let the situation go unexplored.


Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or