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As charters get green light, city works on schools

Brookhaven school leaders are working to increase the district’s academic performance as the ink dries on a bill that would allow a charter school in the city if the district’s “D” grade persists.

Last week, Gov. Phil Bryant signed four pieces of education legislation into law, among them one expanding the potential for charter schools in the state.

Under the new charter school law, leaders of districts rated by the Department of Education as A, B, or C districts could keep charter schools out of their district.

The Brookhaven School District has been rated a “D” for the previous two years. If district ratings don’t move upward again, a charter school could locate in the Brookhaven district without input from local administrators.

Brookhaven Superintendent Lisa Karmacharya said she’s not sweating that possibility.

“It doesn’t make me nervous, but of course it’s a reality,” Karmacharya said.

Not nervous, because, Karmacharya believes the district has taken appropriate steps to mend its lackluster performance on state rankings.

“I feel good about what we’re doing,” Karmacharya said. “We have so many safety nets in place. We have good tracking systems.”

This academic year, the district has been utilizing Case 21 assessment tests. These exams are used to forecast how students may perform on standardized tests and identify areas of weakness instructors need to address.

“I feel like Case 21 has been really predictive for us,” Karmacharya said. “Right now it suggests we will be in better shape than we were last year. I don’t know where we’ll fall out but it does suggest an increase.”

The state’s A-F ranking system is largely based on how students perform on end-of-the-year standardized tests.

Student scores are used to create a Quality Distribution Index number. Each school and each district receives a QDI number.

In the 2012 state rankings released last August, rankings derived from tests taken at the end of the 2011-12 school year, the Brookhaven District had a QDI score of 156.

In an interview after rankings were initially released, Karmacharya suggested a QDI of approximately 170 would help improve the school’s standing.

Assessment numbers indicate some modest QDI growth, but not enough to reach the neighborhood of 170.

According to “March Highlights” posted on the Brookhaven School District’s website, assessments currently forecast a district-wide QDI of 160.

The district’s “January and February Highlights” reported a predicted QDI of 159 for the district, so there has been a minor upward trend.

However, QDI isn’t the only factor. Schools must also meet their growth target – a certain amount of improvement over the year before.

On the 2012 rankings, only Alexander Junior High met its growth target.

The Lincoln County School District earned a B on the 2012 rankings. The district would have to fall two levels, from B to C to D, before a charter could locate in the district against the will of Lincoln County administrators.

The state’s new charter school law also bars students from crossing district lines to attend a charter school, something some earlier drafts of the law had allowed.

Thus, if a charter school located in a neighboring school district but not within the Brookhaven District, Brookhaven students couldn’t leave the district to attend it.

Conversely, if a charter school located in Brookhaven, Lincoln County students couldn’t leave their district to attend the Brookhaven charter.

Charter schools are publicly funded but operate independently of many regulations standard public schools face.

For example, under the new Mississippi law, up to 25 percent of teachers in charter schools would be allowed not to hold a state teacher’s license.

Charter school administrators would also be exempt from state administration licensure requirements.