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Opposing groups clash over charter schools

In addition to the members of the Jackson-Madison County School Board members and the leaders of the school district being in attendance to the school board work session on Monday, two groups of people were present as well.

Community members who support the concept of charter schools in Madison County and those who oppose the idea were both present as well.

Both groups had signs with messages expressing their opinions on the matter, and members of both lined the entrance to the district central office before the meeting.

Discussion between the groups in pre-meeting conversations saw each side give their reasoning.

“We don’t need public money being given to private schools meant just for white students,” said Debbie Swacker, the chair of the Madison County Democratic Women (MAD Women).

“The current school system isn’t working because the children aren’t getting the education they need,” said Cyndi Bryant, who’s also a member of the Madison County Commission (Republican-District 4). “Our children deserve the best education they can get and this can be an option for them.”

The two acknowledged before the meeting they agreed they want the best education for JMCSS students possible, but they were on opposite sides when it comes to discussing how to make that happen.

Charter schools weren’t on the agenda for Monday’s work session, thus not on the agenda for the board meeting on the following Thursday, Feb. 9. The board did officially approve an ad hoc committee and a charter school review team in their January meeting.

American Classical Education (ACE), the company who applied last year to bring a charter school to Madison County, was represented by its principal Phillip Schwenk, who spoke at the January meeting of We the People of West Tennessee to give information about their plans and methods if a charter school were to come to Madison County.

While there was no official discussion during the meeting, there was plenty of discussion after the meeting.

Swacker and fellow MAD Women member Dian Brown said later that JMCSS seems to have everything in place for it to succeed as a district already, and bringing in a charter school would upset that momentum.

“There are programs in place that are setting students up for success after high school, schools are being recognized for their improving scores, things are looking up right now,” Brown said. “Bringing in a charter school from another company would pull funding from the district just so a select few could be exposed to this education.”

The “select few” part of Brown’s statement is a part of the idea of charter schools that Swacker said she’s uncomfortable with.

“It would be one thing if this education were available for all students, but it’s not,” Swacker said. “It’s only for a small number of the total enrollment of Jackson-Madison County Schools, and we don’t need a private school for white kids funded by public money.”

Bryant and other charter school supporters including Peg Ramsey and Londa Rohlfing disagreed with Swacker’s sentiment.

“Where is there anything written anywhere that says it’s for white students only?” Rohlfing said. “We want the kind of education ACE would bring to Madison County available to all students.”

Ramsey said JMCSS schools are failing, and that’s why a charter school is needed.

When asked about any proof that the district is failing, Ramsey and Rohlfing said they didn’t have the statistics with them but they could get it.

Bryant did compare the idea of a charter school with a school method that already exists in JMCSS.

“Not every student is eligible to get into Madison or Community Montessori, and no one is criticizing that,” Bryant said. “So I don’t understand why people are so upset with the idea of a charter school that could be great for students in Jackson and Madison County.”

ACE did file a letter of intent to apply again this year for a charter school in Madison County.

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