ASD Head, MCS Discuss Reforms

By Bill Dries

The head of the state run Achievement School District that will run a set of low-performing schools across the state is beginning specific discussions with Memphis City Schools officials about decisions to come after the new year.

ASD superintendent Chris Barbic said decisions about which of the state’s low-performing schools are run directly by the state and which are run collaboratively with school districts should start being made and announced by the first week in February.

The Memphis City Schools system has 69 of the 85 schools in the bottom 5 percent. Four MCS schools – three high schools and one middle school – are already in the Achievement School District. The state has already decided that two state-run charter schools, one for a middle school and the other an elementary school, will operate as part of the ASD in Memphis. That means they will be phased in a grade or two at a time over several school years starting next fall when the school year begins.

In Memphis last week for a set of meetings, Barbic talked to about 50 people at a meeting of the Frayser Exchange Club at Westside Middle School, one of the low-performing schools but not one of the four already in the district.

Westside principal Bobby White talked about his middle school’s test scores and also touted improvement.

“You have to recognize the power of what’s taken place,” he said.

There wasn’t improvement to tout in some of the seventh-grade numbers. Some of the elementary schools that feed into Westside Middle have kept their sixth grades. White says in order to be a true middle school, Westside should have all of those sixth-graders, which would bring up the seventh-grade scores.

“That’s the age that they need to be in middle school,” White said. “If we could have a real sixth grade on the front end, then we wouldn’t have to worry about putting children in from all over the Frayser area in the seventh grade. … The continuum would be there and we would have a dynamic middle school.”

White’s call is part of a larger point Barbic made at Westside about the alignment of perennially low-performing schools.

The decisions of the Achievement School District, Barbic said, are about how schools feed into other schools they are aligned with.

“This isn’t just about a school,” Barbic told the group. “Westside is only going to be as good as the kids that show up here. So we want to look at this as a feeder-pattern strategy.”

As he made his point, Barbic pointed to a graph showing the feeder system for Frayser from the set of elementary schools to Westside Middle and on to Frayser High School. All but one of the schools is in the state’s bottom 5 percent.

“If you just pull out one of those schools and try and turn around one school … that’s not going to do the job,” Barbic said, calling for 10-point gains in student performance a school year.

Barbic heard concerns from the audience that some of the best teachers will leave in the turmoil. That’s when White said the change shouldn’t cause good teachers to leave.

“Then the cream of the crop would rise,” White said. “It’s going to help us weed out the folks who are not efficacious in their thought process, don’t believe that all children can learn at a high level and are not being good teachers on a daily basis. That’s the piece that is so powerful for me. Because from time to time we are crippled with removing that type of people from our buildings.”

The discussion is an important one, but Barbic was anxious to keep it on student performance.

“We just spent 10 minutes talking about that and we didn’t say one thing about kids,” he said.

“We’re not out to make anyone’s life miserable. But at the end of the day, my job is not to worry about the feelings and stability of adults. My job is to make sure the kids in the school are getting a great education,” Barbic added. “If, along the process there are some people that get upset by that, then I took this job knowing full well that that’s probably going to happen.”