School is back in session and Jeremiah Newell, principal of ACCEL Day and Evening Academy in Mobile, Ala., has been working 12-hour days.
"It'll settle down after a while," Newell said in an interview.
ACCEL opened August 21 as Alabama's first public charter school, and its schedule has been jam-packed with class introductions, meetings, and a visit from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
But hosting a member of the presidential Cabinet has not been the story of the year so far.
"The big story has been students having hope," Newell said, just hours after DeVos came through. "Our school model is totally designed to provide flexibility so that students can make progress."
ACCEL is run by the Mobile Area Education Foundation, a non-profit organization which has been developing programs and promoting innovation within the Mobile County Public School System for many years. ACCEL is one of those many projects.
Though pitched as a high school serving students in grades 9-12 who have struggled in traditional public schools, ACCEL is not so strictly defined. It has open enrollment, meaning that all students, if they meet the minimum age requirement, may apply.
"The idea that charter schools cherry-pick students is not accurate in Alabama," said Logan Searcy, who serves as education administrator for the Alabama Department of Education and oversees the implementation process for charter schools.
ACCEL also does not have a typical grade model, instead using competency-based stages. Once students show mastery, they can move up to the next stage. This model allows students a chance to graduate more quickly than if they were in traditional public schools.
Flexibility, such as a typical 8:00-4:00 p.m. schedule offering or a 4:30-8:00 p.m. offering, is ACCEL's strength. These innovative techniques are more than neat new tricks, though. They're designed to really benefit students.
"Charters are not just about people having a vision and a passion. They're also about having the capacity to enact that in real life, because children are not experiments in a lab," Newell said.
"As a school, we are a first in the state, and we are doing pioneering work so it's a hard row to hoe," Newell explained. "One of the biggest [challenges] is the political perspective around charter schools."
Newell understands that many people don't support charter schools, but that even those who don't ought to support ACCEL's vision.
"What we want to be best at in our sector is taking and working with young people who need that individualized attention, need to get back on track, and getting them to a college- and career-ready level. That is, in my opinion – as educators, as citizens, as community soldiers, as political animals, whatever your perspective – that is something that shouldn't be argued about. That part has to happen. The charter design allows us the maximum flexibility to do things and help young people in ways that common [methods] are not able to do. Period."
For Newell, what's at stake is these children's futures. Without more options, too many will fall by the wayside.
"The traditional systems that have existed for well over a century are just not going to cut it for this generation of young people."
Jeremy Beaman (@JW_Beaman) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is a senior at the University of Mobile, Alabama and a former Student Free Press Association summer journalism fellow with the Washington Examiner.
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