MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Montgomery’s first approved public charter school will be a public start-up charter school. LEAD Academy leaders announced plans to open in August for the 2019-2020 school year during a press conference on Monday.
Charlotte Meadows, chairperson for LEAD Academy’s board of directors, had previously stated the first step in determining whether the school would be ready to open this fall was to see if the facility would be ready in time. On Tuesday, Meadows said she was informed the building will be ready in July and is hoping to get a lease signed this week.
On Monday afternoon, LEAD Academy confirmed 150 completed registrations following that morning’s press conference. By Tuesday afternoon, Meadows confirmed that number was more than 220.
“Right now, the only parents we can accept are in Montgomery County,” Meadows said. "The first registration period should end in the middle of May. After that, if we still have openings, we will open it back up to students outside of Montgomery County. "
Under the state’s charter school law, public start-up charter schools give enrollment preference to students who live in the school district where the school is located.
For its first year, LEAD Academy will not offer transportation to the school.
“The kids will be coming from all over the county,” Meadows said. “So, we won’t be able to have a bus system. It’s possible children can walk or ride bikes, or parents can transport them. The location we’re at, I think is very convenient for people coming from out east or the central part of Montgomery. Hopefully, it won’t be too much of a problem. Transportation is not something the state requires charter schools to offer. At some point in the future, when we know where our students are coming from, we will hopefully be able to offer transportation.”
Meadows said the curriculum at LEAD Academy will follow the Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts and Math [STREAM] model. However, students do not have to be exceptionally skilled in any of those areas to attend the school. In fact, under state law, the school is not able to enroll students based on their skills or performance in any area, even areas in which the school is focusing. Meadows said the focused learning aspect is similar to the magnet programs currently in place in Montgomery Public Schools. However, while the magnet programs can choose to accept students based on applications and performance, the public start-up charter school will accept all registered students.
“This is going to be a very well-rounded, broad-based education,” Meadows said. “As we get up into the higher grades, we will be more focused on things like engineering and math.”
LEAD Academy will open this fall serving grades K-5. Next year, Meadows said sixth graders will be added, then seventh through ninth grade the following year.
“We’ll be getting into high school and hopefully having a graduating class seven years after we start," Meadows said.
Students attending LEAD Academy will be required to take the same state assessments as students in traditional schools, and Meadows said the teaching will center on those assessments, just like traditional schools. However, LEAD Academy will have to be able to tangibly show improved performance each year.
“If a traditional school has declining achievement numbers, they are able to continue to operate,” Meadows said. “If we have declining achievement numbers, we are immediately closed.”
Another state requirement for public charter schools is to have a board with parents of students enrolled in the school making up 20 percent of its membership. Meadows said the board currently has five members and needs at least two parents to join. She said she and other board members are currently working to find parents to serve on the board.
“Having parents on the board is something we have to do, but it’s also something we want to do,” Meadows said. “We want parents to be involved and have a say in what we’re doing.”
Parent involvement, Meadows said, is also a major focus for LEAD Academy. Parents will be required to volunteer for 20 hours per school year.
“They’re making a commitment to be involved with the school, to bring their child to the school,” Meadows said. “That’s one of the aspects of why we expect the school to be so successful.”
Meadows said the board’s focus is currently on raising money for the start-up costs, which are not covered by the state, and finding a principal. More than 100 people applied for the principal position last year, when LEAD Academy initially published the application. Meadows said more than 150 people applied for other positions at the school. She confirmed she’s been in conversations with some applicants for the principal position.
With the school located in Montgomery County, groups and individuals who oppose charter schools have expressed concerns about it impacting enrollment and the number of teachers in MPS. Meadows, who served on the Montgomery County Board of Education for six years, said a sense of competition in the education field in Montgomery would not be a bad thing.
“I do hope that MPS views this as competition and decides to compete with us,” Meadows said. “A rising tide floats all boats. We need competition in Montgomery. We need to be able to provide options for families, choices for students and a better education for every child who wants one.”
Meadows said the board is preparing to hold multiple town hall meetings in early April for families who are interested in the school.
“This gives parents in Montgomery County an option that they have not had before,” Meadows said. “This is a choice. No one has to make the decision to bring their child to our school. At this point, we just say give us a chance to show you what we can do.”