If you read the Clarion-Ledger yesterday, you may have read an article about an effort to convert Lanier High School into a charter school. Dr. Aaron Shirley, 1951 Lanier alum and Chairman of the Jackson Medical Mall Foundation, is putting together a team of Lanier alums and business leaders that intend to submit a charter application to our state authorizer this December. This is one of the first public attempts to utilize our newly-created charter school law.

The first thing I’d like to point out about this effort is who is seeking to convert Lanier High School. Contrary to some of the concerns raised during the legislative session, this effort is being led by community members, concerned alums, and parents seeking a better education for their kids. This is precisely why MSF supports charter schools. If this group is successful, the school could provide a better education for children of families in this community, especially those families who can’t afford to pay private school tuition or move to other parts of the metro area.

The second thing I’d like to point out is how a charter school could be established at Lanier.  Because JPS is rated as a “D” district, a “New Start” charter school – newly established school – could be created within the district without approval from the school board. However, Dr. Shirley and his team are looking to create a “Conversion” charter school. Converting an existing public school can be a little more complex.

Basically, there are three ways to “trigger” the conversion of an existing public school:

Parent Trigger

To pull the parent trigger, a majority of the parents of currently enrolled Lanier High students must vote to convert the school. The process of reaching out and informing the parents about this effort could take a lot of time. However, the benefit would come in the form of “demonstrated community support” for the charter school.

Teacher Trigger

Lanier High teachers can trigger a conversion if a majority vote in favor of it. The benefit of this option would be the teacher buy-in, which would be necessary for the changes produced through the conversion if Dr. Shirley and team plan to work with existing staff. Getting teachers on board could be challenging if the charter team envisions replacing a lot of the school staff.

Board Trigger

With this route, the Lanier team would present their plan to the JPS Board, which would have to vote to approve the conversion. The possible benefit of this option could come from a partnership between the district and the charter-seeking team. But in this case, it appears unlikely that the JPS Board would approve the conversion. If the Board does vote to convert the school, it could demand as a condition of approval that the Board be the official charter applicant, allowing them to retain control of the school.

It’s up to Dr. Shirley and his team to decide which one of these options would be the best. Each option has its own benefits and challenges. Even if they’re successful triggering the conversion process, the team will still have to complete the charter application process and be approved by the Mississippi State Charter School Authorizing Board.

A lot of work must be done before we see a “new” Lanier High School, but the final product could be a great school for Jackson families.