Alabama’s First Rural Charter School

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Alabama is fairly new to the charter school sector but it is making tremendous strides when it comes to school choice. In 2015 Alabama became the 42nd state to pass a charter school law. Rural students have unique needs that historically, public schools, both traditional and charter, have been criticized for not meeting. However, this fall, the first rural charter school will be opening in Alabama and is aimed at meeting those unique needs. I am so excited to be the Head of School of University Charter School. This school is monumental for charter schools in Alabama and life changing when it comes to meeting the needs of rural students in our community and region.

The Alabama Black Belt region, including Sumter County, grapples with issues such as population decline, increased levels of poverty and unemployment, low educational attainment and an aging population. UCS was created in partnership with The University of West Alabama as a potential solution to some of the unique challenges facing rural public education in Sumter County. The school will initially serve grades PK-8 with the goal of expanding to serve grades K-12 over the first five years. We will open our doors in August of 2018 with an experienced Board of Directors, well-trained teachers and staff, a diverse school culture, and proven systems to implement our educational model. 

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In an effort to meet the educational needs of our community and create a high quality educational choice for families, UCS’ goal is to R3EACH every child through Rethinking & Renewing Rural Education: Achieving Collaborative Heights. The R3EACH model proposes an innovative collaboration between UWA, a rural, regional public institution of higher education, the surrounding community, and the School. The model embraces the idea that our nation’s challenges present real opportunities for rural places, and a sustainable American future must include a thriving rural landscape that has at its very core a thriving educational system. Our mission is to be a rural, diverse K-12 school guided by five core values: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and character education. By focusing on Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STREAM), our students will be prepared for personal and professional success.

When discussing rural education needs in Alabama, Emily Schultz, the Director of State Advocacy and Policy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools said, “The challenge of rural public education is real and deep, particularly in southern states. When this school is successful, if we can replicate this model it can be a great tool in the toolkit of rural communities.”

Partnering with UWA allows UCS to bring innovation, career options, project based learning, and soft skills to the rural students in the Black Belt region.

University Charter School was designed with input from and support of our rural community in order to meet the needs and desires of the community and this will continue to be the priority of UCS. Listening to the wants and needs of rural families in Sumter Country is how we developed the mission, vision, and model for UCS. Parents and community members have been actively involved in developing our school model through advisory councils, focus groups, and public community forums.

“UCS’ team crossed a lot of lines in the community that have never been crossed before. This was about asking the community what they wanted the school to look like, actually listening, and incorporating that into the application” said Schultz.

We welcomed parents to give their input, tell us what their needs and desires were, and guide us in what we should incorporate into their child’s school environment. The two greatest needs as revealed by parents were quality teaching and school safety which we will continue to keep at the forefront as we grow and develop our school.

We must begin to invest in rural education with not only our financial resources but our time and energy as well.

UCS stakeholders believe that the primary catalyst for change in the Black Belt region and other rural areas is education. The long-term vision of University Charter School is to become a collaborative rural model that other communities can use as a blueprint for success. I am honored and proud to serve as Head of School and to be a part of this community. As we move forward in this historical endeavor, we are focused on preparing children to pursue their passions by creating good stewards and good citizens. 

For more information on UCS visit their website.

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