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Mississippi’s First 9-12 Charter School Approved to Open in Clarksdale

Clarksdale Collegiate Public Charter School, a K-7 institution in Clarksdale, Miss., founded by Amanda Johnson, left, earned the approval of the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board to open Clarksdale Collegiate Prep on Sept. 25, 2023. The school, scheduled to open in fall 2025, will be Mississippi’s first charter high school serving grades 9-12. Photo courtesy Clarksdale Collegiate Public Charter School

A charter school will open for Mississippi high school students for the first time after the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board approved Clarksdale Collegiate Prep’s application to begin serving 9-12 students in fall 2025. Clarksdale Collegiate already serves students in grades kindergarten through seventh.

“We’re here in order to make sure that we are fulfilling the promise that we made to scholars back in 2017 and ‘18 when we were signing some of these scholars up for our school,” Clarksdale Collegiate Public Charter School Executive Director Amanda Johnson told the board at its meeting on Sept. 25 in a room filled with students and employees. “We told the parents that we were putting their child on a path to go to college. … We believe that work (of opening a high school) is worthy and that our scholars, and scholars of the Delta, deserve the absolute best.”

Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board Executive Director Lisa Karamacharya told the Mississippi Free Press that opening a charter high school is expensive due to the number of teachers needed to meet the Carnegie unit requirements and added academic and extracurricular activities.

“We had a high school that was approved back in 2017 that was never able to make it over that hump simply because of the expense,” she said on Oct. 10.

Although charter schools gained popularity in many other states in the 1990s, they only recently gained traction in Mississippi. Former Gov. Phil Bryant signed the Mississippi Charter Schools Act in 2013, creating the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board. The board approves and denies charter school petitions and ensures compliance with standards, statutory requirements and assessments of existing state charters. Charter schools are publicly funded schools but they are allowed to operate with more flexibility in curriculum, administration and hiring.

The first charter schools, Midtown Public and Reimagine Prep, opened in 2015 serving middle school students in Jackson. There are now 10 authorized charter schools in the state.

Midtown Public Charter School in Jackson was one of the state’s first charter schools to open in 2015. Photo by Imani Khayyam

“I think we have to understand that choice is super important,” Karamacharya said. “It’s important for families and it’s important for children. It can meet the needs of kids and then meet the needs of families. We need to offer options and we need to offer high-quality options to those families and kids and we need to understand that the rising tide can lift all boats.”

In Clarksdale, the public school system has consistently failed to meet state standards. The Clarksdale Municipal School District carried an F rating from the 2017-2018 school year until last school year when it earned a D. But charter schools in Mississippi have faced strong opposition, with many arguing against diverting public education funds toward charter schools when the State’s existing public schools remain underfunded.

Clarksdale residents so staunchly opposed opening Clarksdale Collegiate that they formed an organization supporting a lawsuit Jackson Public School District parents filed with the Southern Poverty Law Center challenging the constitutionality of using public money to fund charter schools. Several representatives, senators, and local officials also wrote letters asking the board to reject the Clarksdale charter school’s application. More than 1,300 residents also signed a petition opposing the school.

Clarksdale Collegiate’s website even republished an article from the Hechinger Report acknowledging that much of the controversy stemmed from the fact that “school choice has long been linked to private segregation academies opened for white families fleeing desegregation and busing.”

Still, Clarksdale Collegiate Public Charter School opened in 2018. It was the first in the state to open outside Jackson, drawing students from Clarksdale, Coahoma County and surrounding areas. The school, which started with kindergarten through second grade, has added a grade level each year since its opening.

“These families and these children deserve some choice and they deserve quality. It really needs to be about working together and supporting all of Mississippi’s children,” Karamacharya told the Mississippi Free Press. “It’s just (about) working together, coexisting among the traditional schools and having a real commitment to quality and to what makes a difference in a kid’s life.”

Clarksdale Collegiate currently serves approximately 500 students in kindergarten through seventh grade. The proposed high school’s location and academic components have not been finalized.

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