JACKSON, Mississippi — Mississippi's Charter School Authorizer Board voted unanimously Wednesday to approve two additional charter schools to open in Jackson next year.
Both will be located on the same campus and operated by RePublic Schools of Nashville, Tennessee. That organization last month opened Reimagine Prep in south Jackson, one of Mississippi's first two charter schools.
RePublic plans next fall to open Joel E. Smilow Collegiate, which will eventually serve grades K-8, and Joel E. Smilow Prep, which will eventually serve grades 5-8. Ravi Gupta, RePublic's founding director, said they will be named after the former chairman and CEO of Playtex Products, who has pledged $1 million in support.
The schools would be the third and fourth charter schools in Mississippi. The Midtown Public Charter School also opened in Jackson last month. Like Reimagine Prep, it plans to serve grades 5-8.
"The kids and families of Jackson need more and better options," Gupta said
Krystal Cormack, who led the board committee that recommended the approvals, said she was confident that RePublic's applications met Mississippi's standards.
"They have assembled a team that has a high level of experience in elementary education in particular," Cormack said.
Both schools will offer programs longer than the traditional school day, focusing recruitment on northern Jackson. Both plan to teach computer coding in middle school grades.
The K-8 school would be RePublic's first serving lower elementary grades. Gupta said that by working with students just starting school, RePublic hoped to raise academic achievement levels more quickly. He said that in the organization's middle schools, the need for extensive remediation can crowd out enrichment activities, but that should be less of a problem at younger ages.
"That changes everything," Gupta said. "That means if you have an extended school day you can put in a lot more extracurricular activities. You can get a lot more creative."
Both schools would be located at the site of the former Broadmoor Baptist Church, more recently Wesley Biblical Seminary. A family foundation led by descendants of the late lumberman, bank investor and civic leader Warren Hood has agreed to buy the sprawling campus, renovate it and lease it to RePublic.
The K-8 school plans to enroll 198 students in kindergarten and first grade next August. The middle school plans to enroll 199 fifth graders. Each school would add one grade a year, with the middle school reaching 458 students by 2019 and the K-8 school reaching 942 students by 2023. Combined with Reimagine Prep, they would give RePublic more than 1,800 students, larger than many of Mississippi's traditional public school districts.
So far, all the charter schools that have been approved have been in Jackson. The board has been holding meetings in other parts of the state, trying to build interest, but has turned down applications from Columbus and Natchez as insufficiently prepared.
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