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Mississippi charter school board approves new school in Jackson, again rejects Columbus group

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JACKSON, Mississippi — Mississippi officials on Friday signed off on the state's second charter school, but rejected plans for a third.

The Charter School Authorizer Board approved an application by Midtown Partners, a Jackson community group that plans to open a middle school serving up to 220 students in grades 5-8 next August. The board lauded the school's plan to model operations on a successful charter school in Massachusetts.

The board rejected an application from Inspire Charter Schools in Columbus for a school that would serve 360 students in grades K-6. The group made it to the second round of the approval process, but ultimately board members found flaws in teaching, operating and finance plans.

The board approved Mississippi's first charter school earlier this year. Reimagine Prep in Jackson, serving grades 5-8, is scheduled for a fall 2015 opening. After seeking two rounds of applications in less than a year, the board now plans to wait a full year before seeking applicants again.

A midtown resident, Shmea Kelly, attended the meeting and thanked the board. She said that residents believe better schools are a key to revitalizing the neighborhood west of Millsaps College.

"We were looking at options for how we will better educate children in our community," Kelly said.

Midtown Partners is working with the Boston-based Brooke Charter Schools network to develop its plans and will adapt Brooke's curriculum for its use. But the school, to be housed in a building Midtown Partners now rents for an after-school program, will not be operated by Brooke.

Though Midtown Partners Executive Director Kristi Hendrix said the group hopes to attract neighborhood residents to the school, it will be open to any students who live in the Jackson school district.

It's the first startup group to win approval to open a charter school in Mississippi. Reimagine Prep will be operated by a group that also runs two charter schools in Nashville, Tennessee.

"I think this does demonstrate that a homegrown operator can put together a successful application," said board Chairman Tommy Cardin of Clinton.

Krystal Cormack, the board member who oversaw the application process, said the Columbus application foundered in part because of continuing questions about whether the curriculum would be comprehensive or cohesive. The plan also again faced questions about whether the Rev. Darren Leach, the school's executive director, could improperly financially benefit from renting property of the church he pastors to the school.

"I would hope that Inspire will view this through a constructive lens and seek ways to make a proposal that meets the standards we've set in place," Cardin said.


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