By Brenna Kelly
Earl Simms joined the Kentucky Department of Education in August as the director of the Division of Charter Schools in the Office of Legal, Legislative and Communication Services.
Simms came to Kentucky after three years as the St. Louis director of the Office of Charter Schools with the University of Missouri College of Education. While in Missouri, Simms worked to improve charter schools in St. Louis by monitoring school compliance and the performance of 10 K-12 charter schools serving approximately 4,000 students.
Simms also has served as the senior director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association, where he managed the association’s lobbying efforts and communications. He represented the association and member schools on a variety of matters with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
In addition, he participated in the 2015 cohort of the Leaders Program with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.
Simms is a graduate of duPont Manual High School (Jefferson County). He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and in public relations from Murray State University.
In 2017, Kentucky became the 44th state in the country to allow charter schools after the Kentucky General Assembly approved and Gov. Matt Bevin signed House Bill 520, which allowed local school districts and the mayors of Lexington and Louisville to serve as charter school authorizers.
With this question-and-answer segment we introduce Simms.
Why did you want to be the one to help launch charter schools in Kentucky?
“Being a Kentucky native, I felt it was important to use my experience to help my home state launch charter schools. I had a great public education and want to make sure students choosing this opportunity get the same.”
How will your experience in Missouri help you in your new role?
“In Missouri, I worked in both the advocacy and authorizing sectors with charter schools, so I feel I can bring a wide range of experience to this role. This experience will help in working with not only individual charter schools, but also with authorizers and in the policy arena as well.”
What will your role be in implementing Kentucky’s charter schools?
“In the beginning, I see my role being a facilitator to connect stakeholders in the sector with resources to begin their work. This includes best practices for schools to open, but also for authorizers to consider new school applications and oversight of those schools if they are authorized. I also will be answering questions and presenting on charter school statutes, regulations and best practices.”
When do you expect the first charter school in Kentucky to open?
“The pending charter school regulations include the state’s application to become a charter school. We anticipate these regulations becoming final in February and potential charter schools could begin completing those applications at that time. The earliest the first charter school could open is the 2018-2019 school year.”
What is the process once someone applies for a charter school?
“The application would go to an authorizer and the authorizer would determine if they want to authorize the charter school based on an objective review process. KDE is going to create and release a guidance evaluation rubric for the state’s charter school application to help authorizers in this process.”
How will charter schools differ from traditional public schools?
“Charter schools have autonomy from some state statutes and regulations in exchange for the increased accountability of potential closure should they not live up to their charter. Their board is also appointed by the school rather than elected by the community.”
What do you think is the biggest misconception in Kentucky about charter schools?
“I think as a new charter school state, people are still learning about how they work in practice. I want the public to know that charter school serve all students regardless of educational history, disability or English language learner status. They also are subject to the same state assessment and accountability requirements of a traditional public school and they must hire all certified teachers, just like a traditional public school. Charter schools must also adhere to the same health, safety, civil rights and disability rights requirements as other public schools.”
What effect do you think charter schools will have on public education in Kentucky?
“I think they could be a great tool in a district’s portfolio to use to try innovative programs before potentially scaling them to the district as a whole. Charter schools will also give parents and families another public education option if they believe that their child’s needs would be better served in a charter school. A parent could potentially prefer a specific curriculum or specialized focus at a charter school or the structure of the school day or year if it differed from the local district school.”