Groups reapply to open charter schools in Natchez

Published 1:12 am Saturday, September 6, 2014

NATCHEZ Two organizations who applied to open charter schools in Natchez earlier this year are trying again.

Mississippi’s charter school board received letters from 10 organizations that say they intend to apply for 17 schools.

The board is scheduled to vote on approvals in December. It can approve up to 15 schools per year, but earlier this year approved only one at the end of the first-ever application process.

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The Phoenix Early College Charter School applied earlier this year to open a school, but was eventually turned down by the board.

State board members reasons for the denial of the Natchez group’s applications included a lack of a firm commitment by Copiah-Lincoln Community College and Alcorn State University, which the Phoenix Project said would assist in providing college credits to its students.

The Natchez campuses of those schools, the group’s application stated, would also have housed the new school.

Board members also said the capacity of the Phoenix group to carry out the plan for the school was unknown because it was unclear who would be managing the school, the Phoenix group or Charter Pros, a consulting group hired by the Phoenix group.

Academy of Arts and Sciences Mississippi also applied for a school in Natchez early on in the process, but never made it before the board for approval. They also submitted a letter to open schools in Natchez, Jackson and Moss Point.

Mississippi lawmakers in 2013 approved an expanded law allowing charter schools — public schools run by private groups that agree to meet certain standards in exchange for less regulation — after a two-year fight.

Some groups may not follow through with a full application due by Sept. 15. Last year, 19 groups indicated interest in opening 30 schools, but only 12 groups applied.

“I was impressed that we had the numbers and the quality that we had,” Charter School Authorizer Board Chairman Tommie Cardin said of the expressions of interest.

Only a few applicants have ties to groups that already operate successful charter schools elsewhere, which is the type of applicant that many charter supporters say they most want in Mississippi. The board is trying to hire a woman who has overseen charter schools in Louisiana’s Recovery School District — Marian Schutte. Cardin said that he hopes that if the board is successful in hiring her, that she will be able to improve both outside and Mississippi-based applicants.

“That’s really going to help us tremendously in being able to publicize the process and reach out to operators across the country who might be interested,” Cardin said. “She also appreciates the importance of local operators.”