- Associated Press - Monday, October 27, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi’s Charter School Authorizer Board has moved two groups that want to open schools to the final stage of consideration.

Inspire Charter Schools, which was a finalist in the first round of applications earlier this year, is seeking to open a school for 360 students in grades K-6 in Columbus. Midtown Partners is seeking to open a school for 208 students in grades 5-8 in Jackson.

Midtown Partners is a nonprofit group that works to improve the Midtown neighborhood just north of downtown Jackson. Executive Director Kristi Hendrix said the group moved to open a charter school because residents say the current elementary and middle schools in the neighborhood - both D-rated - aren’t serving children well.

“We have consistently seen the educational system is not up to the standard it needs to be,” Hendrix said.

She said Midtown Partners is working with the Boston-based Brooke Charter Schools network to develop its plans, but said the school would be freestanding and not operated by Brooke. The school would be based in a building Midtown Partners now rents for an after-school program, and 400 people signed petitions supporting the plan.

Applicants submitted letters of intent for 17 schools, and of that group, six made full applications.

The board examined the six applications to make sure they met minimum requirements for financial, academic and support-service plans, eliminating four groups earlier this month.

Krystal Cormack, a member of the authorizer board, said they lack legally required plans to help speakers of foreign languages learn English caused three applications to be eliminated - Emerge Community STEAM Charter School in Tunica County, Emerge Community STEAM + E Charter School in Jackson and Excellence Academy STEM Charter Elementary School in the North Panola school district.

Cormack said Du Bois Prep Academy in Tunica County was eliminated because its proposed budget had problems, it was unclear if it had enough money for its planned building, and because there wasn’t enough separation between the school and its management organization, both headed by former Memphis, Tennessee, Mayor Willie Herenton.

The board will hold public hearings on the two applicants before the vote. Outside evaluators will interview each in November, making recommendations, with the board planning to vote on approvals in December.

Earlier this year, the board approved Mississippi’s first charter school. Reimagine Prep in Jackson, serving grades 5-8, plans a fall 2015 opening.

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