Charter schools were first approved in Alabama in 2015, and there is currently only one in operation in that state. Potentially the second, LEAD Academy in Montgomery, is on track to open in the fall of 2018, and it is focused on character development.
“There’s a real possibility we’ll have a charter school in Montgomery by the fall. This is an official step in the process,” LEAD Academy Chairwoman Charlotte Meadows said in the Montgomery Advertiser.
Meadows spoke following a public hearing that LEAD held to solicit feedback from the public. If the school’s charter is approved, Meadows and fellow board members hope to make 360 seats available in the first year.
Initially, the school will serve only grades kindergarten through 5th, and it will plan to grow to serve all primary and secondary grades by 2024. On Feb 12, the board will find out if their charter has been approved by the state’s public charter school commission.
The public hearing provided an opportunity for LEAD’s leadership to lay out this growth plan. They also addressed the school’s mission and its unique components that would set it apart from Montgomery’s current educational options.
Lori White, a LEAD Academy board member, “spoke of focusing classes on STREAMS: science, technology, reading, engineering, art, math and social/emotional learning,” according to the Montgomery Advertiser. This focus on STREAMS is meant in part to built on the concept of STEM education, which traditionally refers to science, technology, engineering, and math. The addition of social and emotional learning into the curriculum is intentional.
“It’s essentially character development,” said LEAD Academy board member Lori White of the addition. She said the school would, “Start from kindergarten on to help children learn social skills needed to survive in this world.” Another board member, City Councilman William Green pointed to the power of “the right educational atmosphere.” He described his own experience as a child, being “a victim of the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
Green said that LEAD will be a place where, ““We don’t care about your background. We’re going to have a high expectation.”
Charter schools are unique in their ability to define a vision—such as the STREAMS approach—and establish an educational atmosphere to fulfill that vision. Patricia Maloney, whose research in character formation in charter schools appears in The Content of Their Character, a publication of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, observed: “Coherence correlated strongly with articulation. Teachers, students, and administrators at all the charters but [one] were generally able to articulate the school’s mission and favored virtues, usually in an easily remembered acronym. This articulation fit with the concept of unified and well-publicized moral ideals and logic.”
Meadows, White, and Green all articulated a common vision for what they want LEAD to provide students. The school’s desire to build career-focused skills, like technology and engineering, in conjunction with social and emotional traits is laudable.