JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - One group was approved Monday to open a new charter school in Mississippi, while the state’s Charter School Authorizer Board delayed a decision on three others and rejected one.
Winning approval was Ambition Preparatory Charter School, which plans to open a school next fall in west Jackson serving grades K-8. The board rejected an application from school-tutoring and support group SR1 to open a K-5 school in Canton for the second year in a row.
But requests from RePublic Schools, which operates three of the state’s five existing charter schools, for a K-8 school and a high school were held over after an evaluation committee recommended the applications be denied because of poor performance at RePublic’s existing schools. And the board also decided to delay a final vote on MS Delta Academies’ plans to open a school in Leflore County serving grades 6-8 after board members expressed fears that the group might not get another chance and that MS Delta Academies may have adequately rebutted flaws that evaluators found in its application.
The main issue for RePublic is the schools’ current academic ratings. Mississippi law says an existing charter operator is supposed to be granted permission to open new schools only when they show clear evidence that current schools have “produced statistically significant gains in student achievement or consistently produced proficiency levels as measured on state achievement test.”
RePublic’s oldest school, ReImagine Prep, produced strong performance in 7th grade math last year. But the share of students testing at proficient levels in English-language arts at both ReImagine and sister school is level with the Jackson school system at most grade levels, far below state averages.
“There is insufficient evidence, at this point in time, that RePublic has a strong track record of academic success in Mississippi,” reviewers hired by the board wrote.
Board members, said letter-grade ratings due out next week might show that one or both of the schools had improved from last year’s D rating. They said an improvement might be enough to approve the applications.
“Are they performing well enough to expand?” asked board chair Krystal Cormack.
The evaluation of MS Delta Academies was worse, but it too won a reprieve. Reviewers said the plan “lacks a framework for a rigorous, quality instructional design that reflects the needs of the school’s target population and will ensure all students meet or exceed the expectations the Mississippi Curriculum Frameworks.”
The evaluators expressed concerns about a proposed schedule for middle schoolers that included 60 minutes of college counseling four days a week and 90 minutes of ACT test prep five days a week, saying it was unclear what subject matter would be taught and how. The reviewers also expressed concerns that the school hadn’t thought enough about how it was going to help students performing below grade level, given Leflore’s rock-bottom ranking last year on state accountability measures.
Pitted against those concerns is a motivation for speed, though. The Leflore County and Greenwood school districts are supposed to merge in July, and the state has said merging districts can keep the higher of two districts’ ratings. Greenwood was C-rated last year, meaning its local board can veto a charter application, unlike a D- or F-rated district.
“It is critically important that we try to facilitate the opening of charter schools in the Mississippi Delta that we think have the most likely chance of success,” said board member Tommy Cardin.
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