The public hearing had just ended. As Tommie Cardin was packing up for his drive back to Jackson, Darren Leach approached him and made what seemed to me a curious comment.
Cardin is the chairman of the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board. Leach is the CEO of the proposed Inspire Charter School.
“I’ve never felt more confident about this than I do right now,” Leach told Cardin.
Oddly, I was thinking just the opposite.
Monday’s meeting at Genesis Church, which will also serve as the Inspire campus, lasted just 40 minutes. Roughly two dozen people showed up and half of them were connected with the proposed school.
As Cardin explained before the hearing, this was not a question-and-answer session. Instead, it was an opportunity for the public to make comments on the proposed school, which will go into the record. The final public hearing is the next to last step in the process. The Authorizer Board will meet on Dec. 5 to announce whether or not Inspire Charter School will be approved.
Of the five people who chose to speak, only three appeared to be people not affiliated with the school. The general theme: A charter school will give Columbus parents a much-needed option to the struggling Columbus Municipal School District, which has been rated as underperforming for four consecutive years.
After Leach and Cardin had finished their exchange, I asked the chairman what seemed like an obvious question: Did the poor turn-out reflect negatively on Inspire’s bid for a charter?
Cardin was diplomatically evasive. “It can,” he acknowledged. “But it’s also important to remember that we’ve had two previous public hearings and the turn-out was much better, anywhere from 30 to 60 people.”
Certainly, it is worth remembering that the process has been a long and exhaustive one. When the Authorizer Board meets to determine Inspire’s fate, it will be considering many, many factors.
Later Leach admitted that while he was disappointed with turn-out, he remains confident that there is both a need and a demand for what Inspire offers the community.
“Monday is really a bad night for a meeting,” he said, suggesting that the meeting conflicted with a heavy schedule of junior-high basketball, which drew would-be Inspire parents away from the public hearing.
The lack of an audience did little to curb Leach’s enthusiasm. His passion and excitement over what Inspire can achieve is written in his expression and animated in his speech.
I’d like to say I am convinced, but I left the meeting with some pessimism.
In a very real sense, this is a venture not unlike any business proposition. Entrepreneurs develop their products, convince themselves that the product is wonderful and work tirelessly to perfect their plan. They are bursting with enthusiasm and mesmerized by the potential of what they offer.
But in the end, success depends largely on the market.
It’s one thing to provide a new product. But you have to have consumers, too.
Is there a demand for the product?
Monday, potential consumers had one last chance to tell the Authorizer Board how desperately a charter school is needed in our community.
Hardly anyone showed up to make that case.
That is a hard thing for the Authorizer Board to ignore, it seems to me.
Considering the state of our city’s public schools, you have to wonder if parents are satisfied with the schools they have, inconceivable as that might be.
I can think of few things more depressing than that.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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