Jeff Amy, Associated Press
JACKSON — Mississippi's first charter school is closer to opening.
The Charter School Authorizer Board voted Monday to accept the application of RePublic Charter Schools, which wants to open Reimagine Prep in Jackson, serving fifth grade through eighth grade. The board denied applications for charter schools in Columbus and Natchez.
The board will now seek to negotiate a five-year contract with RePublic.
ReImagine Prep "will be setting a great standard for what charter schools should look like in Mississippi," said Karen Elam of Oxford, the authorizer board member who shepherded the application. "In short, really top-notch."
RePublic, which has two schools in Nashville, Tennessee, plans to open the Mississippi school in fall 2015, in a building owned by New Horizon Ministries, one of Jackson's largest churches
Ravi Gupta, the managing partner of RePublic Schools, called being selected to open Mississippi's first charter school "a huge honor." The school would have 440 students at full capacity.
He said two staff members would move to Jackson and that the school would begin door-to-door recruiting in August.
The authorizer board, following recommendations from an evaluation team, denied an application from the Columbus Coalition for Educational Options, which proposed the Inspire Charter School STEM and Arts Scholars Academy, serving kindergarten through sixth grade and ninth through 12th grade. The board also denied the Phoenix Project Community Development Foundation, which proposed the Phoenix Early College Charter School in Natchez, serving ninth through 12th grade.
A review team said the Columbus curriculum plan wasn't detailed enough and didn't acknowledge differences between elementary school and high school. Evaluators said they were worried about changes in proposed staffing. They also warned that the Rev. Darren Leach, as the pastor of the church housing the school, could have a conflict of interest as the school's executive director.
Leach said the Columbus group would apply again, learning from its first application.
"The need has not changed and our desire to meet it has not changed," he said.
Of the Natchez application, evaluators said there was no firm agreement with either Copiah-Lincoln Community College or Alcorn State University to allow Phoenix students to enroll — the cornerstone of the early college model. Evaluators also questioned the group's apparent reliance on a consulting firm to design the school, and questioned whether academically lagging students could be prepared for college courses by 11th grade.
The three finalists emerged from 12 applicants. Others withdrew or were rejected for having incomplete applications or being ineligible.
Tommie Cardin, the chairman of the authorizer board, said the board focused on quality in applications. "We started out with the intention of having very high standards and I think we have delivered on those intentions," he said.
The board plans to start the next round of applications over the summer.