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University Charter School enters contract with APCS Commission

Sumter County’s new University Charter School has now entered into contract with the Alabama Public Charter School Commission with a pre-k through 8th opening grade structure. At the charter signing ceremony, held Thursday, Oct. 23, in UWA’s Tutwiler Conference Center, school leaders and the Alabama Public Charter School Commission signed the contract outlining a final plan for opening, enrollment, and development of the school.

A standing room only crowd gathered in support of the charter signing. APCSC was represented by Chairman Mac Buttram and Logan Searcy. UWA President Ken Tucker offered support on behalf of the University of West Alabama, and UCS Board President Micky Smith thanked all in attendance for the continued support shown to the effort.

Buttram commended the community and school organizers for the work that has been done thus far to establish the school and provide opportunity and choice to students. He also recognized UWA for offering leadership in the application process, referencing the University’s long history of providing teacher education to the region.

“I hope some other universities will look at what UWA has done and follow their lead,” Buttram said, referencing several other higher education institutions that were once teacher colleges, like UWA.

Opening in August of 2018, the school will serve grades pre-k through eight and will add one grade per year to reach grade 12 by the 2022-23 academic year. The finalized contract is a framework that has evolved to accommodate the needs and interests expressed by the community, including grade structure and enrollment eligibility.

“We are excited to solidify plans for University Charter School and begin the process of registering and enrolling students for the 2018-19 school year,” said Head of School Dr. J.J. Wedgworth. “We believe we have a strong plan for moving forward and for meeting the needs and interests of the community as determined through the interest surveys we have collected.”

Wedgworth explained that the school was first expected to open for pre-k through 5th grade, but an interest inventory conducted throughout the community following the school’s application approval showed the need for additional grades. She said that the Commission allowed flexibility if plans could be backed by significant research.

“The goal is for UCS to provide an educational option to as many of the children in our region as practically possible,” Wedgworth said. “Based on the results of our recently-conducted interest survey, the practical grade structure based on enrollment interest is pre-k through 8th grade. Although we originally planned to open with a pre-k through 5th grade structure adding the remaining upper grades in Year 2, we saw an opportunity based on survey results to expand the opening grade structure and provide an educational option to more children in Year 1.”

Capacity for the first year is set at 350 students. Enrollment will include three phases: pre-registration, seat offering and acceptance, and final registration.

Pre-registration for kindergarten through 8th grade will begin Nov. 15 for students residing in Sumter County. With pre-registration for Sumter County residents concluding on Dec. 13, if the number of Sumter County pre-registrants exceeds the facility’s capacity, a lottery for Sumter County residents will be held on Dec. 14.  If pre-registration does not exceed capacity, this lottery will not be necessary, and students will be offered available seats on a first-come, first-served basis.

A second pre-registration period will be held for students who do not live in Sumter County, including Mississippi residents who live within 15 miles of the Sumter County line or whose guardian works in Sumter County. These students can pre-register for kindergarten through 8th grade beginning Jan. 3, 2018, through Jan. 31, 2018. If the number of pre-registrants exceeds space remaining after Sumter County registration, a lottery for non-Sumter residents will be held on Feb. 1, 2018. If the number does not exceed availability, this lottery will not be necessary, and students will be offered available seats on a first-come, first-served basis.

Pre-kindergarten will be open to students who will turn four years old on or before Sept. 1, 2018. Enrollment for pre-kindergarten will be announced at a later date, as directed by the Office of School Readiness policies and procedures for First Class Pre-K Classrooms.

“UCS will continue pre-registration until all seats are filled or until we feel that we have reached a sustainable founding class size,” Wedgworth explained.

Following pre-registrations and any lottery drawings that may be necessary, parents and students will receive letters from UCS with an offer for a seat in the grade in which they pre-registered. Parents must then accept or decline the seat in that grade in order to move into the final registration process. Following acceptance of a seat offer, the seat is held for the student, and the student’s more detailed application will be completed for enrollment.

“For all three phases of enrollment—pre-registration, seat offering and acceptance, and final registration—UCS will utilize SchoolMint, which is a mobile and cloud-based student enrollment platform,” Wedgworth said. “We believe this system is a good fit for our needs, and it’s easy to use. I encourage all students and their families to set up a profile now on SchoolMint to become familiar with the platform and to be prepared for the opening of pre-registration.”

Beginning Nov. 15, the pre-registration application will be available to families residing in Sumter County, but parents can access UCS’s SchoolMint platform now to create an account at https://universitycharterschool.schoolmint.net/signin.

Anyone who would like assistance or has limited access to a computer, mobile device, or internet can participate in one of six on-site pre-registration sessions, three for each pre-registration period. For Sumter County resident pre-registration, the sessions are scheduled for Nov. 20, Dec. 4, and Dec. 13. For non-Sumter County resident pre-registration, the sessions are scheduled for Jan. 4,Jan. 15, and Jan. 30. All sessions will be open from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., held in Lyon Hall Room A136.

UCS will be housed temporarily in Lyon Hall, which is home to the University of West Alabama’s Julia S. Tutwiler College of Education.

“Plans are already being made for constructing a standalone, independent facility for University Charter School,” Wedgworth said. “As the school grows and develops, a new facility will be built to reflect the school’s needs and offerings. This will be built in a different area on campus already designated to University Charter School. We look forward to matching the innovative school plan with a facility that will house its many offerings and accommodate a growing student body.”

University Charter School is the result of an innovative collaboration between UWA and its surrounding community. A rural, regional public institution of higher education, UWA, in fulfillment of its mission to “improve the region through education and outreach” fostered the development of UCS as a solution to some of the unique challenges facing rural public education in the Black Belt region.

By partnering with UWA, UCS will open with the support of an experienced board of directors, well-trained teachers and staff, and proven systems to implement the innovative educational model. The University partnership will bring to UCS relationships within the education and philanthropic communities and experience in the design, implementation, and support of staff from the Julia S. Tutwiler College of Education that are formally trained in rural education.

“University Charter School was designed with input from and support of the community to meet the needs and desires of the community and this will continue to be the priority for the school,” Wedgworth said.

(This article originally appeared in the Wednesday, November 1 edition of the Demopolis Times.)