HomeNewsOPINION: ACE has no business teaching our children virtues

OPINION: ACE has no business teaching our children virtues

I’ve got a lot of friends in Madison County who support charter schools’ presence in the area.

Among those are a good number of people who support American Classical Education’s pending arrival to the county to bring their brand of charter school to the area.

I sat in on a meeting of We the People in January of 2023 at Old Country Store when Phil Schwenk, the vice-president of ACE, showed a couple of videos and talked up how much they could help education in Jackson-Madison County Schools.

The videos showed kids laughing, playing, working with different projects, studying in labs, great conversations going on between teachers and students, songs being sung and everyone graduating with 4.0 GPAs heading to the Ivy League colleges and universities of their choice with no mental trauma or negative experiences the rest of the world deals with at some point between kindergarten and graduation.

Included in that educational experience is some type of moral formation. On the “About Us” page on their website, ACE says classical education is “both for the mind and the heart.” They also “work with parents to shape the moral imaginations of our students and teach them how to live well by practicing the virtues.”

So this organization is coming into Madison County, telling Madison Countians they can do education better because they can teach children better than those of us here. There’s nothing wrong with that statement, because if they truly believe they have the best method of education, they should tout it that way.

But that marketing should be done with honesty and facts – particularly if you’re going to market your education at being superior in teaching virtues to its students.

As an organization, here are the virtues ACE has shown to practice simply in its dealings in Madison County:

Dishonesty in saying they made contact with the local non-profit serving at-risk youth in Jackson, Keep My Hood Good. First off, they got the name wrong, so we’re assuming they meant KMHG, and secondly, Juanita Jones with KMHG said as of April 17, 2024, they’ve never contacted her or anyone in the organization.

Schwenk, has said in multiple meetings that ACE has spoken with “numerous” citizens in East Jackson – where they plan to put this charter school – saying they want and see a need for this school in their area of town. Elected officials representing East Jackson including City Councilman Johnny Dodd, County Commissioner Shelia Godwin and school board member Andre Darnell have said none of their constituents have said they’re in favor of the school or even been contacted by anyone from ACE about the issue. When pressed about this fact during interviews with myself or other local media, Schwenk swears he’s not lying and has plenty of evidence in his office to support this, but he’s never produced it for anyone here to see.

As noted in something I saw this week, Alexandria Spry was presented to the charter commission on Sept. 18 in a hearing at the JMCSS Central Office as being the head of school for the Jackson charter school. A couple of weeks later when the state’s charter commission approved the application in Madison County and rejected the Maury County application, having a head of school named was one of the two reasons approval was recommended vs. Maury’s rejection. But Spry was already serving as the head of school for Ashley River Classical Academy, a Hillsdale school in Charleston, S.C., in August and September of last year, according to minutes of board of directors meetings posted on their website and downloaded onto my laptop.

There’s nothing blatant in this scenario that is nefarious and deceitful by ACE because it is possible that Jackson’s charter school opens in 2025 or ’26 and Spry moves over to Jackson and leads the school. But none of that was said at the Central Office last September.

And then ACE CEO Patrick Whalen sent me a statement regarding this scenario to explain it, and his explanation made it look worse. His claim is Spry was hired with the intent of putting her in her home state of South Carolina or Tennessee. Then once ACE opted to push the opening of Jackson charter school back a year in October, they named her the head of school in South Carolina. When this statement was sent to me, I texted their public relations representative with a professional courtesy message: “If I run that statement, ACE will look like liars or idiots that don’t understand how a calendar works.”

So here is my question for my friends who feel like ACE is the charter school needed for the students of Jackson-Madison County Schools, nearly all of you who support this claim to be God-fearing, salt of the earth people who support virtue training and formation of high moral citizens of our country and state. Are you really comfortable having this organization and the virtues and values it’s exhibited in its workings so far teaching the local children values?

This organization not only has shown a lack of virtues but has crossed the line into hypocrisy by telling the people of this area that it can teach the children here virtues while not consistently exhibiting virtues itself.

To be honest, when the school board voted in November to sue the charter commission over the application approval, I didn’t think it was a great move because of what a lot of the lawsuit detractors are saying – what’s the point of spending this money when there’s a snowball’s chance in July of coming out a winner?

But ACE was approved for two reasons, and one of those reasons has proven to be inaccurate.

The chances of victory in the lawsuit may still be that of a snowball, but that snowball has moved months on the calendar – let’s say April. There’s still little chance of a win for JMCSS here, but sometimes there’s a frost in April when temperatures drop low enough.

Either way, ACE has proven it’s not the right charter school option for Madison County. Any measure taken to ensure they don’t set up shop here is worth it.

Brandon Shields is the managing editor of The Jackson Post. Contact him at brandon@jacksonpost.news. Follow him on Twitter @JSEditorBrandon or Instagram @Editorbrandon.

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