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Charter backers race for fall debut

Proponents of the Urban League’s charter school expressed confidence Monday they will be ready to welcome students this fall, though several critical details have yet to fall into place.

With about five months left before the start of a new school year, the Urban League still needs to hire a school leader and staff, as well as firm up a building for the new charter school. Board members acknowledge they need to move fast, but believe they have enough time to attract the students and staff they need to make the Thurgood Marshall Leadership Academy a success.

The Urban League recently signed an agreement with American Quality Schools Corp, the education management company that will operate the school, Urban League president Jonathon Ray said. The Urban League has also submitted a signed charter agreement to Indiana Charter School Board.

But the Urban League still needs to sign a lease agreement for the urban prep school, which it hopes will be located in the former Village Woods Middle School in southeast Fort Wayne.

The current plan is for local developer Equity Capital Partners LLC to buy and renovate the building, and for the Urban League to reimburse that money through a 10-year lease.

The Urban League was only granted a five-year charter, however, and some in the group are concerned about what would happen if the group’s charter wasn’t renewed. In that case, school board President Will Clark has said the Urban League would still be responsible for the payments.

Clark said the Urban League board will discuss the financial implications of the move and possibly make decisions on the lease at today’s 5 p.m. meeting.

Both Clark and Ray acknowledge timing is tight but expressed confidence the charter school would be ready in the fall.

“If we were going to do it ourselves it would be too much, but since we’re working with AQS, I think we have enough time,” Ray said. “Once the building is ready, we’ll be ready.”

To date, the school has 22 applications, Ray said. And starting midweek, the school plans to start a marketing campaign to attract even more students.

School board members say AQS hopes to start interviewing candidates for the school leader position by mid-April, though board members said they would move the date back if they didn’t have the right applicants.

In December, the newly created state charter board approved the creation of the Thurgood Marshall Leadership Academy, a social-justice-themed school overseen by the Fort Wayne Urban League and run by AQS.

Supporters of the school were inspired to act after East Allen County Schools closed Harding High School last year.

Urban League officials hope the school will function as a public version of Canterbury, a private, high-achieving school in southwest Fort Wayne.

They said the school would have a social-justice theme and would focus on the Urban League’s mission of narrowing racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps. They hope to make the school a community hub, and a place where families are connected to social services.