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Public applauds charter school proposal

Mary Kathryn Carpenter /  The Natchez Democrat — Board members of the Phoenix Early College Charter School hosted a comment session at Copiah Lincoln Community College Thursday evening.

Mary Kathryn Carpenter / The Natchez Democrat —
Board members of the Phoenix Early College Charter School hosted a comment session at Copiah Lincoln Community College Thursday evening.

NATCHEZ — Members of the group proposing a charter school for the area heard a resounding wave of approval from local residents who spoke during a public hearing Thursday hosted by the state board that will ultimately approve or deny the school’s creation.

Mary Kathryn Carpenter / The Natchez Democrat — Chris Bradford addresses the crowd of approximately 50 people at the Phoenix Early College Charter School comment session Thursday evening.

Mary Kathryn Carpenter / The Natchez Democrat — Chris Bradford addresses the crowd of approximately 50 people at the Phoenix Early College Charter School comment session Thursday evening.

The Phoenix Project Community Development Foundation wants to open the Phoenix Early College Charter School in Natchez, serving grades 9 through 12.

Charter schools are publicly funded, independently operated public schools that do not charge tuition or fees, are open to all students who wish to attend and cannot discriminate when making enrollment decisions.

The group is one of three in the state who have advanced through the application and selection process by the State Charter School Authorizer Board.

Public hearings were hosted this week in each community where a charter school is planned with the goal of receiving as much feedback as possible from area residents, Board Chairman Tommie Cardin said.

“We felt like it was important for you to hear from the applicant and for us as board members to hear from you, members of the public, who are going to be most directly affected,” Cardin said at the hearing. “That’s why we’re here.”

The six members of the Phoenix Project Community Development Foundation addressed the audience individually in an auditorium at Copiah-Lincoln Community College and shared their part with the proposed school.

Mary Kathryn Carpenter / The Natchez Democrat — Approximately 50 people attended the comment session Thursday evening held by Phoenix Early College Charter School board members to voice comments on the possibility of the school opening in Natchez.

Mary Kathryn Carpenter / The Natchez Democrat — Approximately 50 people attended the comment session Thursday evening held by Phoenix Early College Charter School board members to voice comments on the possibility of the school opening in Natchez.

Volley Davis, board member and co-founder of the organization, told the audience the school is a direct result of a need in the community for a different choice in education.

“We hear our children crying out for help, and they’ve been crying out for many years,” Davis said. “We have the opportunity to provide a service to make a difference in our children.”

The group is seeking to open an early college high school model, which is a high school focused on college preparation, that would have open enrollment for students in ninth through 12th grades, with a plan of opening to 75, ninth grade students in 2015.

The school would be operated with a contractual agreement with Charter Pros, a consulting and management organization.

Cordell Ingram, who is a consultant with Charter Pros, said his organization has spent time visiting and conducting research at 26 early college model schools throughout California and North Carolina to find the best models that work.

“The philosophy of education for the Phoenix Early College Charter School is that all students can learn no matter what,” Ingram said. “At the end of the day, we want to help these students be better prepared and better equipped.

“We want to help these students become productive citizens in the City of Natchez.”

Following the board members’ presentations, a variety of community members shared their comments, all of which were in support of the proposed charter school.

Chad Bradford, who works in the Wilkinson County School District, said he was a proponent of quality education for all students in the area.

“I do represent another school district, but we’re all concerned about education,” Bradford said. “We need an alternative path, because (students) are behind and held up with these state assessments.”

Natchez resident Greg West said he’s concerned with the monopoly the Natchez-Adams School District has on the community.

“In my life, there’s only been one school district, so therefore students or parents don’t have a choices as it relates to public schools,” West said. “There are several private schools, but only one public school.

“If there’s no choice, you take what’s there or you don’t, so I welcome this group and believe they will be successful in our community.”

Phoenix Project Community Development Foundation Inc. was created in part by Natchez native Iretha Beyah, who has advocated for charter schools in the area before, including in Fayette, Waterproof and Ferriday.

Beyah said after the meeting she was pleased with the turnout and said the group would continue working to finalize certain parts of the school’s plan, including a location and a director.

The group listed on their application that the Natchez campus of Alcorn State University would likely be the site of the school, but Beyah said Thursday group members are continuing to explore all possibilities.

“We’ve reached out to Alcorn and Co-Lin as far as the location of the school, but we’re keeping our options open and looking at a variety of locations,” Beyah said. “We just have to keep moving forward.”

The Charter School Authorizer Board plans to vote on applications June 2, finalizing contracts with approved schools later that month.