Alabama Public School Charter Commission denies one charter request, approves another

Commission rejects Montgomery charter expansion; approves fine arts charter school in Mobile

By: - February 15, 2023 6:59 am
Student in between classes. A student with a light orange sweatshirt and backpack is prominently featured.

A photo of students walking between classes.

The Alabama Public Charter School Commission Tuesday denied a Montgomery charter school’s expansion request and authorized a Mobile charter school.

LEAD Academy, which opened in Montgomery in 2019 and was approved as a kindergarten through eventual 12th grade school, sent a letter to the commission requesting additional seats for its ninth grade year. 

Under the charter contract, schools are approved for a certain number of seats. If a school wants to expand, the request must go before the commission.

Members of the commission Tuesday expressed concerns about the management of the school. Paul Morin, a commission member who has long been critical of the school and its operations, said during the meeting that LEAD Academy was “failing.”

Messages seeking comment from LEAD Academy were not immediately returned on Tuesday. 

The charter school the first to open in Montgomery, has faced turmoil throughout its life. The board fired its first principal, Nicole Ivey, a little under two months after it opened in 2019. Ivey sued shortly after, alleging mismanagement and discrimination at the school. The Montgomery Advertiser reported Ivey and LEAD Academy reached a settlement in March 2020. 

The academy’s board dismissed Ivey’s successor, Ibrahim Lee, in June 2020.  The school has also faced a complaint of nonpayment from one vendor. 

In a 2021 site visit for the School Quality Report, evaluators wrote that only 38% of classrooms had effective engagement and participation. The report also said the school does not have a process for identifying at-risk students. Teachers told the evaluators that there were no additional academic supports for students. Evaluators said that teachers were frustrated that many students were below grade level, but they had no process for intervention.

When the commission returned from executive session, they voted 6-0, with one abstention, to reject LEAD Academy expansion. The school will have 48 ninth-graders next year.

After the meeting, Luis Ferrer, the co-chair of the commission, said that he believed that the commission had mitigated any impact on current students.

Fine arts charter school

The commission Tuesday also approved an application to open a fine arts charter school, FLoretta P. Carson Visual and Performing Arts Academy in Mobile, on a unanimous vote despite some commission members expressing concerns about its viability.

The school is scheduled to open in August 2024, said Jeremiah Newell, an executive with the Mobile Area Education Foundation Charter Schools.

Morin, who has a performing arts background, said that he was happy with the amount of community support the school had, but expressed uneasiness about the budget for musical instruments. 

“For example, a trombone, you know, a beginner trombone, just a beginner trombone can be anywhere from $400 to over $3,000,” said Morin. “That’s just for one instrument. A baby grand can be anywhere from $15 to $20 to $25,000. We’re talking huge chunks of change.”

Krista Williams, the CEO of Floretta P. Carson, told the board that she has formed partnerships in the local community. She also said she is working with arts organizations to find discounted prices and different programs that could be free as long as they’re used for education. 

Ferrer had also raised concerns about the school’s ability to meet the needs of special education students or students with individualized education plans.

The Commission denied the school’s first application last year. Ty Moody, the chair of the commission, said there had been time, energy and research done between the preceding application and the current one. Moody also praised their financial management capacity.

“Thank you for your loyalty for this project,” Moody said. “It’s clear that you’re passionate about it.”

There were nine charter schools operating in Alabama that they have authorized through the end of last year, according to the commission. Montgomery Public Schools has three conversion charter schools and one start-up charter school. At least four more, including Floretta P. Carson, are scheduled to open in 2023 and 2024.



Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct how many charter schools are in Alabama.

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Jemma Stephenson
Jemma Stephenson

Jemma Stephenson covers education as a reporter for the Alabama Reflector. She previously worked at the Montgomery Advertiser and graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.