Charter school commission denies Montgomery charter, approves Fairfield one

The Montgomery charter school had been denied by Montgomery BOE earlier this year

By: - May 9, 2023 1:58 pm
Rows of desks in a classroom, each with a purple textbook on top. A whiteboard and projector are visible in the background.

A bill would authorize the use of cameras in special education classrooms. (Getty)

The Alabama Public Charter School Commission Tuesday denied a Montgomery charter school’s appeal and approved a charter school in Fairfield.

The state commission voted to uphold the Montgomery County Board of Education’s denial last January of I Dream Big Academy. The charter appealed the district’s decision, arguing the board had not communicated with them through the process. 

I Dream Big Academy, a charter school that says it would direct students down college, military trade and workforce paths, has submitted an application to Montgomery Public Schools three times and has been denied twice. 

The school would serve sixth through 12th grade.

Among other concerns, I Dream Big Academy Chief Executive Officer Angela Lang said she felt the board had not been sufficiently transparent with the charter school over the course of the application process. 

Vernet Nettles, the charter school liaison for Montgomery Public Schools, said she had regularly emailed and communicated with the school through the process.

Montgomery Public Schools is a local charter school authorizer, but charter schools denied by a board of education can appeal to the commission. 

Members of the commission said they were reluctant to overrule the decision of a local authorizer. Commission member Ryan Kendall said he felt there were two questions: did the local authorizer make an error in their decision, and is the applicant going to create a high-quality charter school? 

“And, so, you have to get past ‘A’ to get to ‘B,’” he said.

The board voted 5-2 to uphold Montgomery Public Schools’ decision to deny the charter school. 

The commission unanimously voted to approve Independence Preparatory Academy, a proposed K-8 college preparatory school  in Fairfield, but not before questioning Fairfield’s financial state and the charter’s ability to serve special education students.

A message was left with Commission asking how many students the school plans to serve.

Commission member Paul Morin noted that Fairfield filed for bankruptcy in 2020, and said he had had concerns about the charter school’s ability to provide transportation if the local school district could not do so. He also questioned the school’s ability to find staff on the nutrition side.

“It’s very obvious that you have a very strategic plan of instruction and engagement with the kids, but, at the end of the day, they have to eat and they have to get there and they have to get home,” he said.

Calandra Sales, the lead school founder, said that she was not relying on the local board of education to provide transportation. Messages seeking clarity on how transportation will be provided were left with the school.

Luis Ferrer, the co-chair of the commission, asked about the charter school’s ability to provide services for special needs students.

Sales called their approach “student centered,” and they plan to provide the services that students need. She said they have “a very high cash reserve” in their planning year, which will help them meet student needs.

“If that is a need, we are prepared to provide that service to students,” she said.

The school is scheduled to open in the fall 2024, according to Tyler Barnett with New Schools for Alabama.

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, not including Independence Preparatory Academy, are scheduled to open in 2023 and 2024.

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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.