Montgomery’s LEAD Academy launched its annual capital campaign on Tuesday. LEAD Academy is a public charter school separate from the troubled Montgomery Public School System. Alabama Today was given a guided tour of the campus by Chief Academic Officer Cody Shumaker and Principal Danielle Webster.
The LEAD Academy has two separate school buildings on the campus, which are located off Montgomery’s Eastern Boulevard. Webster is the principal of the Pre-K thru grade 3 school. Jermaine Coleman is the principal of LEAD Intermediate school, which is the Grades 4 thru 8 school.
Webster said the LEAD Academy was awarded a First-Class Pre-K classroom by the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education.
“There were 160 applicants for the 18 available spots,” Webster said.
The school has been a heavy adopter of computers and technology.
“Every child has a chrome book,” Webster said. “We have a device for every child.”
“They do assignments over the internet,” Shumaker explained.
“We teach Korean in the Fifth and Sixth grade,” Webster said. “Very few intermediate schools offer a foreign language.”
“We have 702 students,” Shumaker stated. “We have been open for four years, and we just opened our eighth grade this year.”
Erik Estill is the Executive Director of the LEAD Academy.
“We are excited about Lead Academy and all of our scholars,” Estill said. “We are looking forward to providing them a rigorous course of study.”
Alabama Today asked Meadows whether students would return to their neighborhood schools for high school upon completion of 8th grade.
“We hope not,” Meadows said. “We need a high school, but we are out of space on this site.”
“We hope to have our high school open next year,” Estill said. “We do not have any place to put students on this property. We would have add more portable classrooms unless we get a new location.”
Meadows said that while Montgomery parents pay taxes for schools, those local tax dollars do not follow the students.
“We think we should get a share of local tax revenues, but the county sees it otherwise,” Meadows explained. “The state and federal dollars do follow the children.”
“LEAD Academy is a public charter school,” Estill said. “We do not receive any local funds. We are expected to do better with less. We have shown that we can do that.”
“We need help with funding,” Estill said, asking donors for money. “It is not a private school. It is tuition-free and provides the education of a private school. We accept any student that enrolls as long as we have a seat available in that particular grade level,” Estill explained.
“It is great to have a school here in Montgomery that I would send my own child or grandchild to,” Meadows said.
Shumaker explained that LEAD Academy is in a consortium with seven other charter schools and that one food service company prepares the meals for all the schools in the consortium. The school has also just opened its new school library as well as a dedicated playground for the pre-K children.
“We can also use this space as an outside classroom,” Shumaker commented.
Most parents in Alabama are not given any choices in the schools that their children can attend. Expanding school choice options for Alabama families are likely to be considered in the 2023 Alabama regular legislative session. The Alabama Education Association and the Alabama School Superintendents Association strongly opposed school choice legislation during the 2022 Alabama regular session.
Meadows has been a vocal proponent of school choice. She faces a difficult re-election after the legislature redistricted her House District 74 to a majority-minority district.
“It has been an uphill challenge,” Meadows said about getting to know her new voters in her re-election campaign.
Meadows faces Democratic nominee Phillip Ensler in the November 8 general election.
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