A group hoping to start a Columbus charter school next fall says its second application to the Mississippi Charter School Authorization Board will focus entirely on elementary education.
Darren Leach, executive officer with Inspire Charter School, told The Dispatch on Monday the plan is to open a school that will serve, in its first year of operation, kindergarten through third grade students.
Charter schools are publicly funded and do not charge tuition. They are run by private groups that agree to meet certain standards in exchange for less regulation.
A group called the Columbus Coalition for Educational Options is pushing to open the Inspire charter school, which would serve children living within the city limits.
“Columbus is just one of those places that is ripe for a charter school,” Leach said, adding that in the Columbus Municipal School District, 55 percent of third graders are behind in Language Arts based on standardized test scores.
The Mississippi Charter School Authorization Board denied the group’s first charter school application earlier this summer. That initial application proposed opening a kindergarten through third grade, as well as a freshman class, in its first year of operation.
The authorizer board’s chairman, Tommie Cardin, told The Dispatch a successful application from Inspire would need to fill in gaps the board found in the first application. Those issues included not having curriculum that differentiated between elementary and high school classes, as well as not having named a principal.
In response to the initial setback, Leach said the latest application — which is due to the state board no later than Monday — will give a clearer outline in regard to curriculum and culture.
“It’s a little clearer what we are trying to do with our kids and what kind of environment we are going to have,” Leach said. “We are going to have a strong focus on reading and vocabulary.”
The latest application also eliminates the possibility of beginning operations with a freshman class. That way, Leach said, school officials can focus on what he calls the “fundamentals of learning.” However, the plan is still to eventually have a full-fledged high school. Grades would be added over time.
As far as not having named a principal on the first application, Leach said the second application will name one. He declined to reveal to The Dispatch who the person was, out of the respect for his or her current employment situation. Leach did say, however, that the candidate is a current education administrator from Michigan.
In a charter school setting, a principal essentially serves a dual purpose as both an education administer and non-profit head, according to Erika Berry, executive director of the Mississippi Charter Schools Association.
“We’re looking for the highest academic performance standards that an applicant can provide,” Cardin said. “We’re looking for the highest quality teachers and administrators.”
The proposed school would be located at Genesis Church, where Leach serves as the head pastor, and open in the fall of 2015, if approved. It would be the first charter school in the Golden Triangle.