The Alabama Charter School Commission is changing.
On Thursday, the Alabama State School Board voted to appoint five new members to the board. Those appointments came from nominees provided by Gov. Kay Ivey, Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon and Senate President Del Marsh.
Only one incumbent survived on a board that has drawn considerable criticism over the last year for its handling — or, to be more accurate, mishandling — of charter school applications and approvals. Most notably, Commission chairman Mac Buttram was not re-nominated by Ivey.
The new appointees are Paul Morin (Birmingham), Jamie Ison (Mobile), Sydney Rains (Mobile), Kimberly Terry (Trinity) and Marla Green (Montgomery).
The majority of Commission members will have public education backgrounds of some sort, and at least two new members have experience with workforce development.
It’s a shift that, at least from the outside, would appear to be steering the Commission more towards the original mission of charter schools: to compliment existing public schools and provide necessary education/training in areas (specifically workforce areas) that are deemed lacking in some districts.
But perhaps most importantly, the new faces simply represent change on a Commission that has drawn increasing fire from the public — particularly in education circles — and from elected officials for its handling of charter school approvals.
At the center of that fire is the drama surrounding Woodland Prep charter school in Washington County.
The approval of Woodland Prep, after a series of errors, lies and a failed application drew massive heat from the community in Washington County. Town halls were hostile. The people wrote letters. The media mostly crushed the endeavor.
The Commission always gave deference to the Woodland Prep representatives. It even granted a one-year extension to open after the school badly missed its projected open date this school year. And by “badly,” I mean that right now there’s no school building on a bare piece of land.
The public and state lawmakers had seen enough.
Because it wasn’t just Woodland Prep. There were major problems in Montgomery and Birmingham, too. Charters in those cities were also allowed to skirt very clear rules and given approvals to open despite failing to meet several key requirements.
Privately, elected officials, including some of the most powerful in the state, had started to tire of the constant controversy, and many were troubled by the problems they saw. They were concerned that the controversy, and the accompanying public perception, could forever damage the image and success of charter schools in the state.
The nominees — and the lack of push for any specific nominees — were in response to those issues.
State officials just want the ruckus to die off and to restore some faith — where it can be — in the value of properly run charter schools.
Thursday’s appointments — and the nominations that made them possible — are a step in that direction.