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VOL. 127 | NO. 134 | Wednesday, July 11, 2012

ASD Makes Debut at Three Frayser Schools

By Bill Dries

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Summer school for teachers is under way this week at three Frayser schools that are critical to the state’s Achievement School District

Teachers selected by the state to teach at Corning and Frayser elementary schools as well as Westside Middle School report Wednesday, July 11, for the coming school year and the new methods they will be using under state control.

The leadership teams in each school, including principals and teachers who will also have some school leadership roles, began setting up shop Monday in advance of the Aug. 6 start of the school year.

Teachers and other leaders at the three Frayser schools all had to reapply for their jobs in the ASD. And there are a lot of new adult faces at all three schools either because some teachers chose to go elsewhere or leaders of the state-run district decided not to use them.

ASD spokesman Jeremy Jones describes it as a “very rigorous” process “that includes multiple interviews and sample teaching lessons.”

“This allows a number of people to meet and assess candidates at each level,” he said. “We feel like we really know someone before we hire them.”

The first week in July, leaders of the three schools were out in the 100-degree heat knocking on doors in the areas around the schools, introducing themselves to parents.

They canvassed seven apartment complexes in four days taking the Fourth of July off.

And the effort will continue for the three weeks until the start of classes.

The district is organizing a block party July 21 at Frayser Elementary as part of the effort to encourage enrollment in that and the two other ASD schools in Frayser.

“This is something that has never taken place in Tennessee,” Bobby White, the former principal of Westside Middle School who is now part of the ASD’s leadership, told those at the Frayser Exchange Club in May. “We are in on the ground floor. … This is a real watershed moment.”

He and the others are explaining that Westside Middle will have a sixth grade next school year to go with its seventh and eighth grades. That means students at Corning and Frayser elementary will be feeding into Westside a year earlier and Westside will have them a year longer before they move into Frayser High School.

Parents can opt out of the ASD and have their children assigned to conventional Memphis City Schools. ASD leaders are approaching that as a challenge.

“They can expect to know our teachers and principals very well,” Jones said. “We are communicating constantly by phone banks and direct mailings so that they know us.”

During the canvassing, ASD leaders have heard and rebutted lots of false rumors that the state closed the three schools.

“We know that there is a lot of speculation in the community. We are a completely unknown entity so we expect there to be some speculation,” Jones said. “We know it is on us to sell them this product.”

The opening year of the ASD, which includes a few other schools in other parts of the state that are also in the bottom 5 percent statewide in student achievement is a big change in which ASD superintendent Chris Barbic decided to aim the new concept at the Frayser community, specifically the feeder pattern into Frayser High School.

“If we scattered all over the state or all over the city, it becomes much more difficult to build those relationships,” Barbic said in April. “We want to get rooted in one place.”

Eight of the 10 schools in the Frayser High feeder pattern are in the bottom 5 percent statewide. The goal is for the schools to be in the top 25 percent in the state in terms of student achievement in five years.

Meanwhile, Memphis City Schools superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash has named Elaine Stewart Price as the new principal of Lester Elementary-Middle School and Robert Davis as the new principal of Gordon Elementary. Both schools are also part of the ASD.

The 2012-2013 school year will be a year in which the charter schools operating within Gordon and Lester also begin to be phased in. Gordon’s Science and Arts Academy, operated by Gestalt Community Schools, will exist alongside the elementary school for the Gordon attendance zone that will remain.

The academy will be open to students from schools rated in the bottom 5 percent of student achievement in the state no matter where they live. Lester becomes a charter school operated by Cornerstone Prep, a local nonprofit charter operator, with the charter school grades phased in over two school years.

The charter operators at Gordon and Lester are operating under a contract with the ASD and not Memphis City Schools.

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