2 charter schools, 1 planned for Huntsville, move ahead with plans to open in Alabama

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT)-- The Alabama Public Charter School Commission has pushed forward plans for two charter schools: one in Mobile, and one in Huntsville.

Mobile's Accel Day and Evening Academy will begin operating in Mobile to serve students ages sixteen and older, who may be struggling academically or have already dropped out of school. It's planned for August 2017.

In Huntsville, a proposed SLAM Academy will use sports to intrigue and engage children Pre-K through 2nd grade.  The SLAM (Sports Leadership & Management) application to the state indicates the charter school, if approved, would grow from the initial 300 students, and possibly include up through 5th grade and beyond. It passed through the committee this week on the condition that a Federal judge must approve it, as it relates to a consent order in the Huntsville City Schools desegregation case.

The SLAM Foundation already has 5 charter schools, and pending approval the Huntsville location would be the 6th. It first started in Miami and uses Sports Leadership and Management curriculum.

"We have a sports-related hook that engages the students in their curriculum, whether it's language arts, math, or reading, but you use sports-infused lessons," explained Marshanne Castro, a SLAM Huntsville Committee Member. "Even students in kindergarten, first, second graders, they understand team concepts like those in athletics," she said.

SLAM has locations in Florida and Nevada, but we wanted to know, why Huntsville?

"Why not Huntsville?" replied Castro. "It's a progressive city, we are always on the cutting edge of new ideas, and all students deserve an opportunity for a choice and a school that works for them and for their parents."

The desegregation order and consent order remedying it could add a layer of complication as SLAM seeks to get started.

"We really feel like we can be an enhancement to the school system and to the city," she said. "The State Department of Education has put us in touch with someone from the Justice Department and attorneys with the local school system, to make sure what we do with SLAM Huntsville is well within the realm of what the Federal Judge has asked with the consent, and we're not creating any issues for the local school system."

SLAM leaders must meet with Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala for the approval they need to continue with the application process in Alabama.

We asked former superintendent Casey Wardynski what he thought about the charter school. Wardynski has experience dealing with charter schools in jobs before he came to Huntsville, but as the Huntsville superintendent he had previously feared charter schools could throw a wrench in the consent decree implementation.

Wednesday, he said, "It could certainly add a level of complexity in something that is already complex." But he believes the decision to place the issue in the hands of the judge was a good move by the state, taking pressure off the school system in a way. "The complexity of a charter probably is something that with the judge's help can be managed. It's going to take a lot of communication."

He added that the way a charter school handles things like the lottery for admission, will be telling of whether the judge likes the plan.

"The kind of services they offer can kind of shape the folks who want their student in that school. The degree they don't differentiate it in a way that would deter anyone from attending would be an important consideration," he noted. "A charter should fill a niche. What is it going to bring to Huntsville doesn't have? What population is it going to serve that could perhaps be served better through its theme?  So the city should evaluate, what is it adding to the mix?" He said based on his interaction with the judge because of Huntsville's consent decree, he thinks SLAM has a good chance of making it.

SLAM leaders know it's a challenging environment in which to try to start a charter school, but they're up to the task.

"We really feel like we can be an enhancement to the school system and the city," said Castro.

When WHNT News 19 contacted Huntsville City Schools board president Laurie McCaulley, she said the school system had yet to take an official stance on SLAM's first round of approval.

SLAM needs to meet with Judge Haikala, and if she approves the plan, the Alabama Board of Education and charter committee must give SLAM its final stamp of approval for it to begin operation in Alabama.