HomeNewsACE principal looks to make charter school available for all JMCSS students

ACE principal looks to make charter school available for all JMCSS students

Phil Schwenk is a career educator that’s been involved in charter schools in Los Angeles and Cleveland, Ohio, creating schools that he says vastly improved the educational metrics for the students in those schools in a short period of time.

Now that he is one of chief officers of American Classical Education, Schwenk says he and the others with ACE simply want to do the same work with similar results in Madison County along with six other counties in Tennessee.

“Gov. Bill Lee contacted his friends at Hillsdale College and told them – pretty adamantly – that he wanted 100 charter schools in the state of Tennessee,” Schwenk said. “We’re not affiliated directly with Hillsdale, but we have close connections, and we were brought into the conversation.

“Now we’re not as ambitious as Gov. Lee is in bringing 100 schools in, but we have applied for seven counties after we applied for three last year.”

ACE has petitioned Jackson-Madison County Schools with to partner with them to bring a charter school for 340 students from kindergarten through fifth grade into the county.

They applied in 2022 with the request being denied after tense public hearings last summer.

“We came back this past winter and reapplied with clarification on a few detail items that weren’t worded as well as they could’ve been in last year’s application,” Schwenk said. “Our goal is to simply bring a school based on classical education into the county and make that school available to every student in the county.

“We don’t have a preference of where the school is placed or in what area. We have tweaked our application to say that our goal for the demographics is to mirror the demographics of the system.”

Schwenk said he had an interesting conversation with JMCSS Superintendent Marlon King earlier this year.

“It was probably two months ago, I was in town and he and I were having a discussion, and then suddenly in the conversation, he says, ‘Let’s take a ride,’ and we get into his truck,” Schwenk said.

He and King were discussing how ACE and JMCSS could work together if the JMCSS Board were to approve the charter school. When King took him for a drive in town, he was taking him to get a look at a school. They went to Jackson Careers & Technology.

“He asked me if we would be interested in occupying this building and serving the students here, and I was like ‘Are you serious?’” Schwenk said. “Because what he showed me at the school and surrounding it is exactly what we’re looking for.”

Schwenk said JCT’s proximity to the Boys and Girls Club, Jackson State Community College, a nearby church, Section 8 housing close by and a major thoroughfare in Highway 70 make JCT’s location an ideal spot for a charter school.

“Now Dr. King didn’t make any promises or anything like that,” Schwenk said. “I’d classify it as him seeing what the district’s options are.

“And I let him know during this conversation that a partnership between the district and ACE is us wanting to establish a school, and they can tell us where to put it. Because we want to make it available for every student, and we’re not here to create conflict with the district. We want to work with them.”

JMCSS established a charter school ad hoc committee late last year and a charter review team. The recommendations from those groups were brought before the Board in a special called work session on Tuesday with the Board set to officially discuss and vote on the charter school issue in a special called meeting on April 27.

Schwenk elected not to comment specifically on transportation for the school because it’s a hypothetical notion at this point.

“Our schools don’t typically have their own buses, but if a partnership with the district that results in students riding the bus to our school is a possibility, I’d welcome that discussion,” Schwenk said. “But we don’t even have a school yet, so discussing buses is something that would come after there’s been a decision made about a school.

“I can tell you right now that ACE schools have a quality track record in improving educational metrics in their students with a classical education, and we want to make that opportunity available to the students of Madison County. We’d love to do that as a partnership too, because it’s proven to work and I think it will for Jackson and Madison County too.”

Brandon Shields, brandon@jacksonpost.news

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