Groups seek to create three new charter schools

Published 9:04 pm Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to remove the name of a person who sent emails asking Adams County residents to sign petitions and send letters of support for establishing charter schools at the individual’s request.

NATCHEZ — A local non-profit seeks to establish three new charter schools in Natchez-Adams County.

The applications were submitted Friday.

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A mass email was sent on Tuesday last week asking the Adams County community to sign and email letters of support for establishing three new charter schools in the area.

Marvin Jeter III, Ph.D., a member of Natchez United and the nonprofit Natchez-Adams Educational Development Foundation, submitted the application. He said more than 200 residents signed a petition and nearly 40 residents submitted letters in support of putting charter schools in Adams County.

The three proposed charter schools include a Natchez-Adams Early Childhood & Intermediate Center for kindergarten through fifth grade; Southwest Mississippi Academy of Health Sciences for grades six through 12; and Southwest Mississippi Conservatory for Performing & Media Arts for grades six through 12.

Jeter, who is also an educator of more than 30 years, said he became involved through a group of four diverse young adult men—a banker, a teacher, an entrepreneur and an entertainer—who formed the group “Natchez United’ in 2017.

“They loved Natchez and wanted to stay and have families in Natchez but they were concerned about the declining population,” Jeter said. “They wanted to do something to make a difference. … They pulled in mentors to get recommendations on what we thought needed to happen to revitalize Natchez. … It centered around rebuilding the economy but that was connected to engaging everybody to start working together and become one group and also start working to improve education because that has been one of the things that has kept the economy from growing here.”

Jeter said he was one of the mentors along with Teresa Dennis and Jay Stewart.

The four men were Jeremiah Rios, Garret Yelverton, Sammy Qudan and Eldric Young, he said.

In 2018, the organization hosted a career day called “the world of work” for Natchez schools which represented more than 100 different professions and gave students an up-close look at what people employed in those fields do. Additionally, they took school board members, elected officials and community leaders along for a tour of several Louisiana schools with career academies to inspire improvements in the programs offered at NASD, Dennis said.

“We went to three different academies in the State of Louisiana to show how an academy education geared towards careers engages kids these days,” she said.

The group met three times a week starting with a prayer night on Monday nights.

“We needed to pray for healing in the community because so much of what has gone on with education and economic development is because of the strife between different segments in the population so we have to pray that God will heal that piece,” he said.

Tuesday nights were dedicated to discussing issues with education and possible solutions, he said. Thursday nights were for community engagement where different segments of the population were invited to get together and get to know one another in order for them to work together more effectively, Jeter said.

“We’ve been working for five years making every impact we could to support education here,” Jeter said. He said little change was made to the public school system despite all of that.

“It’s not just the school board,” he said. “It’s sort of a national dilemma where people just don’t like change and want to keep things the way they’ve always done it and I do understand that. But I also understand that the way things have always been is serving fewer and fewer kids every day.”

“It’s failing,” Dennis added. “It is shown by the grades. … In Mississippi, those ACT scores continue to fall but they change the state grading to make it look like they’re climbing and the kids still aren’t getting the education, so we’re trying to look at new ways to educate our local population.”

Jeter said the organization was invited to look at making charter school proposals in February, which seems like the solution they’re after. The three schools proposed would start elementary students off with the fundamental STEAM programs, science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics. Then, the older grades allow students to choose between the Academy of Health Science to further their math and science education or lean more toward the creative media and performing arts.

Jeter said there would be a review process of the charter school applications and by August they should be notified if the proposed charter schools for Adams County were accepted or not. If accepted, they would have a year to secure locations, teaching staff and an enrollment plan, he said.

“We can only take one step at a time,” Dennis said. “We have to pray our way through this thing and pray that the doors will open.”