HomeNewsACE principal touts charter school as positive alternative to public education

ACE principal touts charter school as positive alternative to public education

We the People of West Tennessee, a grassroots organization of conservative citizens, hosted a forum with Phil Schwenk earlier in January.

Schwenk is the principal of American Classical Academy, the institution who filed a request in 2022 to bring a charter school to Madison County and then pulled the request. They have a few more weeks to possibly file another request to be considered this year.

Schwenk said he was appreciative of the invitation to speak to people in Madison County because he said he felt like there are a number of misconceptions about charter schools that he wanted to debunk for the crowd of about 80 in attendance.

“People think I’m coming for your public funding of schools and I’m going to put it away somewhere and get rich off of it,” Schwenk said before getting a reply of a collective chuckle from the crowd. “If that were what I were doing, we’ve done this enough in other states that I think I’d have my money by now and there’d be no need to come to Madison County.

“But that’s obviously not the case. I’m an educator. That’s what I’ve spent my entire career doing, and I’ve worked in just about every environment of public education you can think of – urban environments in Los Angeles and Cleveland, rural environments and I’ve helped start charter schools in Cleveland that worked.”

He said American Classical Academy isn’t Hillsdale College, even though the relationship between Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Hillsdale’s president has fostered the opportunity and even a welcome from Lee for ACE to bring as many as 100 schools into the state.

Madison is one of five counties ACE submitted an application for last year, and even though they pulled their request in the fall, Schwenk said Madison County and Jackson make up an area they feel like ACE can be beneficial.

“America overall has gotten away from classical education and the values it instilled, and there are still plenty of families who want that as an option for their child,” Schwenk said. “And we want to give as many families as possible that opportunity.”

Schwenk played a video for the crowd that gave an idea of what life in an ACE school is like. It showed children of various ages learning in a traditional classroom setting while it had other shots of students learning outside or in a larger indoor space.

Clips of students at recess as well as student-athletes competing in various sports were shown as well.

People in the crowd watching the video were visibly responding favorably to the images in the video.

“Does that look like the kind of education you want your child or grandchild to be exposed to,” Schwenk asked after the video was over. The response was a unanimous “yes.”

While any funding would be pulled from Jackson-Madison County Schools with a charter school in the county because of ACE’s enrollment numbers, Schwenk said that amount would be minimal.

“We only plan to start with 346 students from kindergarten through fifth grade,” Schwenk said. “And then after that we’d plan to add a grade each year.”

But while JMCSS might lose funding, Schwenk contended the district would gain when it comes to being evaluated with test scores.

“When you look at the progress of our students, there’s a noticeable increase in our students’ abilities in the classroom compared to their learning experience before they started with ACE,” Schwenk said. “So those students’ test scores would go up, and those improved test scores would be a part of the test scores for the school district here.

“So yes, we’re helping those students we can get into our building, but we’re also helping the school district as its scores are looking better and better each year. It really is a win-win situation they have if we were to come here.”

The deadline to apply for a new charter school is Feb. 1 of the year preceding the year the school would begin operation.

So if ACE plans to start a charter school in Madison County in August of 2024, it needs to apply for a school by Feb. 1, 2023.

If it does apply, the JMCSS Board has the authority to vote to accept or deny the application, and one board member was in attendance at the meeting and spoke after Schwenk did.

“If you do apply for a charter school, I’ll look at the application and really study it, and if I’m not satisfied with it, I’ll vote no on it,” said JMCSS Board member Harvey Walden. “But I do think families deserve options, and the more families that can be provided options, the better.

“I support the district that I serve as a Board member, but I also know we need all the help we can get. If I think this helps, I’ll support it. But I won’t support it if I don’t think it will help.”

Brandon Shields, brandon@jacksonpost.news

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