A News Analysis
By: John Zippert,Co-Publisher
The Alabama Public Charter School Commission on June 27, 2017 approved the application of the University of West Alabama for a charter school on campus.
Dr. Ken Tucker, President of UWA has been vigorously promoting the idea of a charter school since the end of last year. Community meetings were held in March 2017 in Livingston, York, Emelle and Epes to solicit public comments and input on the proposed charter school.
The mission, as stated on the website of the University’s Charter School, is to be a rural, diverse K-12 school that cultivates independent thought, promotes the building of character and civic responsibility. The school is committed to preparing all students for personal and professional success through the discovery of individual learning pathways in a rigorous and integrated Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) focused, project-based and place-based curriculum.
The school ties into other components of the University’s educational program including its Black Belt Teacher Corps, Center for Excellence in Teaching, Rural Schools Collaborative and others.
The school is proposed to open a pre-K through 5th grade in 2018-2019, and add subsequent grades in the following years. Initially the school will be located on the UWA campus but other alternative sites are also being explored.
The charter school will have its own private non-profit board of directors to control the school. The University’s board will not govern the school, according to the website, but the initial work and funding has been sponsored and coordinated with UWA.
The website states, “ A charter school provides an alternative to students and parents. According to the Alabama Kid’s Count Data Book, there are more than 2,500 K-12 students in Sumter County. Of this number, just over 1,700 are associated with a school located in Sumter County. This reveals a deficit of more than 800 students who are either enrolled in a school system outside Sumter County or not enrolled at all. The establishment of a charter school in Sumter County gives those students another educational option.”
Where are these 800 students? Some of the younger ones are in Headstart or Early Headstart; some attend schools in neighboring counties, e.g., Demopolis, Pickens County, Tuscaloosa; and some attend Sumter Academy, which was established in the 1960’s to accommodate white children who did not want to attend integrated schools. Recently, Sumter Academy announced it was closing its doors due to lack of enrollment.
President Ken Tucker says that the proposed charter school will help to deal with depopulation, loss of business and industry, skilled workforce shortages, poverty and lack of child well being. Marcus Campbell, Chair of the Sumter County Commission says he was on an exploratory committee for the charter school and was told that it would help to attract new industry and people to the community.
The charter school will be funded based on the state per-pupil allocation. If the charter school draws from children attending the public schools, then it will hurt and reduce the budget for the existing public schools in the county. The charter school seems to sidestep this concern by focusing on the students, mostly white, from Sumter County, who seemingly chose not to attend public schools in the county.
Ms. Daisybelle Quinney, Sumter County School Board member says, “I am opposed to this charter school, it further divides the community and takes resources from public education. If UWA was so concerned and interested in the welfare and future of Sumter County students why didn’t they come to meet with our Board and Superintendent and help to bring all the students together in one great school system.”
Ms. Julene Delaine, another SC school Board member said,
“I am 100% for public schools. I think it is time for people in Sumter County, Black and white, to come together to build up and make things better, not worse and tear things apart.”
Delaine also pointed out that members of the last graduating class at Sumter Central had entered college at a sophomore level because of taking Advanced Placement classes in the public school and that students earned $6.5 million in college scholarships.
An official release, faxed to the Democrat from the Sumter County Board of Education, stated the following: “The Sumter County Board of Education will continue to improve all aspects of our academic and extra curricular programs. At this time we do not have any comments on the UWA charter school.”
Ms. Drucilla Jackson, Vice-Chair of the Sumter County Commission, said, “ I graduated from UWA but what they are doing to set up a new school to take resources from the public schools is shameful and unacceptable. They are going to take a few of our brightest and best students out of the public schools but most of the students will be white students fleeing school integration. The saddest part of this is that white folks need to face up to living and working in a society with Black people if we are going to have real change in the Black Belt.”
There are many questions that the people of Sumter and surrounding counties need to ask about this charter school. How many students and resources will they take from Sumter County Public Schools and Headstart? How diverse will their student body really be and how will they insure this? What kind of teachers will they have at the school?; will they be properly credentialized? Why does the charter school need a separate board that has only two African-American members in a county with a 70% Black majority?
Dr. Carol P. Zippert, a Greene County School Board member said, “ It is undeniable that this charter school will take resources from the public schools but the real issue is that UWA and its white supporters do not accept or want to be governed and controlled by a Board of Education and Superintendent elected by a Black majority population in Sumter County. How will UWA help education in the Alabama Black Belt if they do not trust or believe in Black leadership?”