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A third charter school will soon open in Birmingham, with a focus on Black history and academic rigor.
Freedom Preparatory Academy, a charter network out of Memphis, was approved by the Alabama Public Charter Schools Commission on Wednesday, months after the Birmingham City School System rejected its application in January. Cedric Tatum, who represented the city system on the appeal, was one of the few opposing votes on Wednesday.
The network plans to open the school in the fall of 2023, but it will operate under the state, rather than the local school system. Freedom Prep will join two other state-authorized charters in Birmingham: Legacy Prep in West Birmingham and i3 Academy in East Birmingham.
“We’re excited about the opportunity,” said Justin Hampton, the network’s regional director, who is based in Montgomery. “I’m personally super excited as a resident of Alabama, seeing what Freedom Prep can do for students who desperately need another option. And I’m just really excited to have the opportunity personally to introduce that to Birmingham first, and then hopefully to other parts of the state as well. “
Freedom Prep is a college preparatory charter network that currently runs five schools in Memphis, where it leads most schools in the system in achievement scores. The network is also known for its schoolwide emphasis on African tradition and cultural practices.
Hampton said he plans to open the newest school in the Titusville community if he can find a viable facility in time.
The school plans to conduct a lottery in June 2023 and start classes that fall. It has no testing requirements for enrollment.
“There’s so much rich history in Birmingham that there’s a legacy of it in us being able to partner with the folks that are on the ground doing the work now in Birmingham – it’s an honor,” Hampton said. “We’re just excited to be counted among them.”
At the January meeting, Birmingham school board members had varied reasons for rejecting the school.
Some members praised the network’s track record but said they didn’t have the training needed to authorize a charter school. Others were vehemently opposed to the idea, calling the school a potential “parasite” that they believed would drain resources from other traditional public schools.
Reviewers hired by the Birmingham school board praised Freedom Prep’s leadership but originally stated that the application lacked an “intentional focus” on state education standards and the Alabama Literacy Act, which requires schools to provide specific reading supports and interventions.
Hampton told AL.com that his team of experienced educators is well-equipped to adapt to state requirements. In its application, the school also emphasized interventions and individualized instruction for special populations, including English language learners and special education students.
“We’re going to obviously adhere to all the laws of the state, as we do in Memphis,” he said. “So we’ll make adjustments to that and we feel confident that the sort of progress our students are able to make will meet or exceed the expectations of the state of Alabama.”
The Alabama Public Charter School Commission also voted on two other charter applications Tuesday: Red Tails Academy, which planned to open in Tuskegee, and Our Lady of Fatima School in Mobile. The commission denied both applications.
Birmingham City Schools has not responded to a request for comment.