LEAD Academy is the first charter school to secure approval to operate in Montgomery.
The Alabama Public Charter School Commission approved the school 5-1 on Monday after a presentation and a question-and-answer session. Commission member Henry Nelson was the opposing vote and Commission Chairman Mac Buttram abstained.
Now LEAD Academy board chair Charlotte Meadows and the rest of the board have “a lot of work to do” to achieve the school’s goal of opening its doors to 360 students in the fall.
“Now the real work begins,” Meadows said. “We’re going to hire a principal and we’re hoping to post that by the end of the week. Obviously, we’re looking for a pretty special person, someone with experience in charter schools and with starting a school.”
Besides filling staff positions, securing a location and establishing a curriculum, Meadows also has 60 days to sign the charter contract that will establish goals and standards for the school.
Both the commission and the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) will be in charge of overseeing the school, said Logan Searcy, education administrator with the ALSDE
“They have to do everything a traditional school has to do plus the measures that have been put in place in their charter contract with the commission. So they will have additional measures on top of what the state requires,” Searcy said. “They have to reach these goals or the commission can close them.”
LEAD Academy plans to offer K-5 education for the first year, adding grades every subsequent year until the school offers K-12 curriculum by 2024.
Enrollment will open in March with 360 slots available for the first year, Meadows said. A lottery system will be used if more than 360 register.
At a public hearing in January, LEAD Academy board member Lori White said the school will focus on STREAMS: science, technology, reading, engineering, art, math and social/emotional learning.
“It’s essentially character development,” White said of the school’s focus on social interactions. “Start from kindergarten on to help children learn social skills needed to survive in this world. Teach a child to speak face to face, look someone in the eye when you speak to them and shake hands when you meet someone.”
There are two types of charter schools looking to enter Montgomery: start-ups and conversions.
A start-up, such as LEAD Academy, is a never before established school essentially functioning as its own school system. Meadows has said the goal is for LEAD Academy to be able to compete against MPS schools in sports, but LEAD will not receive MPS funding as it is not part of the system.
A conversion school takes a former public school, converts it to a charter school and receives the same MPS funding as other public schools. Conversions can only be approved by the local school board, Searcy said.
If LEAD Academy does open for the fall semester, it would receive state ETF funding based on the number of students enrolled at a school. Any students that leave MPS for LEAD Academy would result in a correlating loss of ETF funds for MPS, but that loss would not hit MPS’ books until LEAD’s second year based on the formula used to calculate ETF funding.
LEAD Academy had to seek approval from the commission because the Montgomery County Board of Education was not a charter school authorizer until interim-state superintendent Ed Richardson granted them that authority in January.
The deadline for charter schools looking to be authorized by MPS is March 16, although they would technically be authorized by Richardson, the de facto head of MPS while the system is under state intervention. Richardson said last week that he has received “four or five” letters of intent and he intends to approve all that apply and meet the requirements.
Besides preparing for a fall opening, Meadows is also battling public opinion of charter schools. She said there is a “misconception” that charter schools are not held accountable.
“Your average school doesn’t get visits from (ALSDE) during the school year ever,” Meadows said. “My hope is once we get started, a year down the road they see the children are getting a good education. That’s what we’re here for.”