New director talks about challenges and opportunities of launching charter schools in Kentucky
Earl Simms said he wants to get charters started on the right foot.
FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Having children is what Earl Simms said sparked his passion for charter schools.
"Knowing, while they're getting a quality education, that not every student necessarily has that opportunity," said Simms.
Simms, who began work as the Kentucky Department of Education’s new director of charter schools in August, said he is excited by the prospect of students and parents having a choice.
"There's no reason why all students shouldn't have the opportunity for a high-quality education," he said.
Simms is a product of DuPont Manual High School, of one of the best public schools in the state. Now he's responsible for launching perhaps the biggest change ever to public education in Kentucky.
"I wanted to bring my knowledge back home to the Bluegrass State to get the movement in charter schools started off on the right foot here," Simms told WDRB News.
Simms spent the last nine years working with charter schools in Missouri. He believes Kentucky can learn from the successes and failures of the 43 other states which have opened charters.
"And that we can, hopefully, skip some of those growing pains," he said.
But the pressure is on. When Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin ceremonially signed the charter schools bill on Oct. 17, he voiced the optimism of charter supporters
"It's going to make a profound difference, and the quality of education will be better," said Bevin.
"But I will say that charter schools are not silver bullet. They are definitely one option to have for public education," he said.
Simms has also been trying to assure skeptics that charter schools can coexist with traditional education.
"Once charter schools have opened, you have seen the corresponding district schools sort of rapidly improve as well," said Simms. "One of the things we really want to see is to cut out some of the head-butting that's gone on."
Both the Jefferson County Public Schools board and the mayor can authorize, or approve, charter school applications in Louisville. Simms has met with both, and said the authorizers hold the keys to the success of charters.
"I'm very fond of saying the best way to not have to close a charter school is to not open it in the first place."
Simms has been helping write the new regulations for charters. There will be a public hearing on the regulations in November, and they should be finalized by February.
Soon after, the Department of Education will begin to receive the first charter school applications.
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