By Deandria Turner
Mississippi Capitol Press Corps
CLARKSDALE – Some believe the new public charter school, Clarksdale Collegiate Prep, set to open in Clarksdale in the 2018-2019 school year, is a better option for students. Others disagree, and some aren’t sure.
Angela R. Strong, who is a parent in the Clarksdale school district, said she may try the new charter school if it enhances her children’s education, but she has to do more research.
“I’m not sure what charter schools consist of, but I am a parent who will at least try and see if my children will get the education that I know they so rightfully deserve from the school system,” she said. “But I will have to do more research, because I had no idea that they would be taking money from the public schools.”
In a recent interview, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said he believes charter schools will improve all learning environments.
“One thing we are trying to do in low income areas, because that’s critically important, is we have been very strong supporters in adding public charter schools,” Reeves said. “By creating options and competition, those public charter schools will not only improve the learning environment for those kids. In traditional public schools, you’ll see improvement because of competition.”
But former educator, Josephine P. Rhymes, said charter schools are not the answer.
“A charter school in this area will hurt this area,” Rhymes said. “We are all fighting for the same students. If they would have set up a charter school for those schools that are D and F, that would have been a plus. We have magnet schools in our community. What more of a choice can you have?”
When Clarksdale Collegiate Prep opens in the fall, it will will serve 150 students in kindergarten through second grade. Rhymes said she is concerned students who need the most help will not be picked to attend the school.
“They cherry pick,” Rhymes said. “They aren’t looking at little Johnny who can’t read. They don’t take those kind of students. They have a right to choose who they educate, and taking money from those already strapped schools is ridiculous.”
Rep. Orlando Paden (D-Clarksdale) said we cannot continue to defund public schools and think it’s going to improve education.
“Find a way to totally impact a child,” he said, “and make sure the money is going directly to the classroom for direct impact and results for our children’s education. We need to make sure we have programs that directly impact the students, so that they can grow educationally.”
When the Mississippi Department of Education released annual accountability grades in October, Reimagine and Smilow Prep each received a D grade for the 2016-17 school year. Midtown Public received an F. These are all public charter schools in Jackson.
“Vouchers aren’t solving any of the problems that we have identified,” Rep. Jarvis Dortch (D-Raymond) said. “If we had a system set up to where everyone has a high quality system, and then you set up something on top of that that allows you to chose another option, that may be fine, but it makes no sense to pull money out of the existing systems and shuffle it to a different system that has shown no improvement. We know that early childhood education is important, so we should be putting money into early childhood, and that is one issue we should be trying to solve instead of vouchers.”
Some have also asked how charter school teachers will be found. “Look at our area,” Rhymes said. “We can’t attract highly qualified teachers. Will the existing teachers leave the traditional public schools?”
Attorney General Jim Hood said he does not believe vouchers are the right choice.
“My argument is pay those teachers enough that we will attract those teachers, and if we properly fund education, we wouldn’t need those vouchers,” Hood said.
Reeves said the state’s number one priority is job creation, and charter schools are an educational option that may improve job prospects.
“For us to be able to provide a good workforce, we have to improve the education attainment level,” Reeves said.
Speaker of the House Philip A. Gunn agreed that the more educated a person is, the more jobs will be created.
“Companies want to know if we have people who are trained, educated, and who are reliable and dependable,” said Hood. “A better education is one step.”
Clarksdale Collegiate Prep is led by Amanda Johnson. School officials say Clarksdale Collegiate will eventually expand to serve kindergarten through eighth grade by the 2028 school year.
DeAndria Turner, 19 is a University of Mississippi journalism major. After living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast her entire life and graduating from St. Martin High School, Turner decided to discover more about herself in a part of Mississippi she had never seen. The Starbucks-loving sophomore plugged right into the Ole Miss community and began telling Oxford stories as a reporter for 92.1 Rebel Radio. She is the news director for the station where she won a Mississippi-Louisiana Associated Press award. She is also involved in a women’s Bible study on campus called “Sisters of Faith” and is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. In her free time, she enjoys leading a small group at her church, traveling, finding new hobbies, blogging, and binge-watching Netflix series.