Dr. Mary Brown, the superintendent of the Greenwood Leflore Consolidated School District, certainly has her plate full.
Besides the significant organizational challenge of melding together two school districts, she’s trying to improve academic performance and change a culture of parental apathy and community indifference, while also dealing with the recent headlines produced by gun-toting students.
If that weren’t enough, now she has to worry about competition for students — and state and local funding — from a charter school that will open less than a year from now in Greenwood.
When Brown was asked this week, following her presentation to the Greenwood Rotary Club, about the state’s approval of Leflore Legacy Academy, she adopted the right tone. Rather than bellyaching about charter schools, as some in the traditional public school community do, Brown said her focus is and will remain on educating the students she does have. “Those who don’t attend Greenwood Leflore Consolidated School District, I pray the best for them. I wish them well,” she said.
Dr. Tamala Boyd Shaw, the principal driver of the new charter school, has her own work cut out for her in getting a school started from scratch by next fall. She has to line up a building and outfit it, hire teachers and other staff, and recruit the 120 students she hopes to enroll as sixth graders in the school’s first year.
Then she has to prove in fairly short order to the students, their parents and eventually the state that the experience — particularly when it comes to academics — is superior to what’s already available in previously established schools, both public and private.
If the concept works as envisioned, Leflore Legacy Academy will thrive and the competition for students will also spur improvements in other schools. With just six charter schools currently operating in Mississippi, it’s hard to tell so far whether that’s happened in either respect. The charter schools’ performance on state tests is about as mixed as it is for the regular public schools. And if there are best practices that charter schools are using, there’s no obvious enthusiasm from other schools in the cities where the charters are operating — Jackson and Clarksdale — to imitate them.
Ultimately, the market will dictate how much a charter school is needed or wanted in Greenwood. If it produces the desired results, enrollment and community support will follow. If it doesn’t, the charter school will fade away.
As a community, we should want every school to succeed — public, private, parochial and charter. Is it possible that they all can? We shall see.