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Charter school board to consider applications for 3 more Mississippi schools over summer

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JACKSON, Mississippi — Mississippi could get as many as three more charter schools in fall 2016.

The Charter School Authorizer Board voted Monday that applications by two groups that want to open three schools are complete and can move ahead to the next stage of consideration. Final decisions are expected in September.

RePublic Schools of Nashville, Tennessee, which will be opening one of Mississippi's first two charter schools in Jackson, is seeking to open two more schools. The first school, Reimagine Prep, will grow to serve grades 5-8 starting this fall. RePublic proposes a second 5-8 school. But it's also proposing a K-8 school, which would be the first time the organization has run a school with lower elementary grades.

Meanwhile, Phoenix Early College Charter School in Natchez has reapplied. That group sought to open a high school serving grades 9-12 during the first round of applications in 2014, but saw its effort rejected, as the charter board cited deficiencies. After sitting out a second round of applications late last year, the group has reapplied, seeking to build a school serving 300 students. The idea is for students to graduate high school and also earn some college credits at the Natchez campus of Copiah-Lincoln Community College. Phoenix would open next year with a ninth grade.

Only one other group sent in a letter of intent this year, said board Executive Director Marian Schutte. That group — Peter's Rock Temple Church of God in Christ in Starkville, couldn't advance because it failed to win local school board approval. Such approval is required in school districts rated "C'' or higher under the state's grading scale. Because Jackson and Natchez-Adams are both ranked "D," local authorities can't block charter operators from opening.

Ravi Gupta, CEO of RePublic, said the organization was interested in a school starting in kindergarten because it finds that its current students typically arrive about two years behind grade level in middle school.

"We really should be starting early if we want the maximum impact," Gupta said. He said if students weren't behind grade level, other parts of the curriculum besides math and reading could be deeper and richer in middle school years. Right now, he says subjects like science get lesser treatment because of RePublic's heavy focus on helping students catch up in math and reading.

The proposed Joel Smilow Collegiate would start with students in kindergarten and first grade, growing to a projected 942 students in K-8. It would share a campus with the additional middle school, Joel Smilow Prep. It's projected to grow to 459 students in grades 5-8.

Both schools would be located at the former campus of Wesley Biblical Seminary on Northside Drive in Jackson. That's across town from where Reimagine Prep will open this August, in the former St. Therese Catholic School in south Jackson.


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