By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Dialy News
At a press conference on Thursday, State Superintendent Eric Mackey and Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange announced that Montgomery will soon open the area’s first charter schools and the state’s first conversion charter school system.
Charter schools are public schools that use specially-approved rules outside of federal and state regulations to seek better performance.
The four schools involved in the transition are Davis and Nixon Elementary schools, Bellingrath Middle School and Lanier High School. Mackey did not announce which school will be transitioned first, but they are set up in a feeder pattern where one school will begin in 2019 and then adding the other three schools in the next few years. This will mark the first conversion charter school for the state of Alabama.
“The next step is a big step,” Mackey said. In the next 60 days the Montgomery County Board of Education and the Montgomery Education Foundation will be working together to make a contract that will drive the transition of these schools and set up what the next coming years will look like for MPS.
The Montgomery Education Foundation (MEF), founded in 2000, is a nonprofit that leverages community resources, volunteers, and research-based practices, to provide rich opportunities for schools, communities, and families, according to its website.
Everyone who spoke at the press conference seemed enthusiastic for the transition, including Mayor Strange, who acknowledged that MPS still has a lot of work to do but that these .
“Last year it was the train coming at us and this year it is perhaps the light at the end of the tunnel. We know we have a ways to go but today we are going to take another big step,” Strange said.
State Senator David Burkette from District 26 in Montgomery and whose district includes most if not all of the feeder schools told Alabama Daily News that this is the correct next step for MPS and are exciting times for Montgomery students.
“We’ve continued to travel down the old path and tried plan A, B, and C but now it’s time to try plan D. You can’t go wrong in this situation because it’s not just for the benefit of this community but it helps move all of Alabama forward. It is high time for us to take a stance and look at the direction we have come from and try to get to the direction we want to get to for the future,” Burkette said.
Mackey wanted to make it clear that the Alabama Board of Education will continue to assist MPS board in whatever resources they needed throughout this transition and that this whole process is meant to be a joint process with absolute clear communication throughout.
“You’ll see as it moves forward, good communications with those schools and communities about what is going on and what are the changes. We do not intend to do any of this behind closed doors,” Mackey said.
Mackey also made clear that these transitioning schools are not going to become private schools and will not be sold to any out of state company. The schools will still be the property of the Montgomery County School Board and the schools will have their own governing board that controls staffing, financing and curriculum.
Ann Sikes, MEF’s executive director said at the press conference that the next steps would involve identifying the school’s leaders and to conduct listening and learning sessions in the communities to hear the concerns and questions from parents.
Sikes said that the board wants to honor the historic connections that these communities have with their schools and wants to work to maintain the existing strengths that these communities have. Sikes also explained what can be expected in the coming years for these schools.
“A minimum of at least 20 percent of the boards will be made up of parents. That is an important aspect of these schools. School names will be retained. Most importantly the same students that go to those schools today will be eligible to attend those schools as conversion schools,” Sikes said.
A five-year accountability contract with MPS will require the MEF to reach benchmarks, and if they don’t MPS has the power to close the charter.
Mayor Strange closed the conference by stating that he understand that this is just the first step in a long and hard journey and not everyone is going to agree on the whole process but that this step can be the beginning of ending the state’s intervention into MPS.
Strange hinted that after this move, he hopes to be getting a report in the next coming months from AdvancED about MPS’s accreditation status.
“I have no insider information and I have not spoken to AdvancED. I am fairly confident that a lot of those reds might turn to greens or yellows and I think it is the late January or February time frame where we might get a report there that might take another positive step as we go down the road,” Strange said.
Caroline Beck is a reporter based in Montgomery. You can reach her at Caroline@aldailynews.com and follow her on Twitter @CarolineBeckADN.