Charter School Shifts Part of Ongoing Changes

By Bill Dries

It was just a few months ago that Lakeview Elementary School in southwest Memphis was closed by the Memphis City Schools system – part of a shift of school-age students out of the western parts of the city to the eastern parts of the city and Shelby County.

Gov. Bill Haslam sits with students from Freedom Preparatory Academy last year to sign a charter schools bill that removes any cap on the number of such schools in the state.

(Daily News File Photo: Kyle Kurlick)

Not too far away from Lakeview, Roblin Webb took notice as the new countywide school board prepared to vote on the closing.

Webb, the founder and executive director of Freedom Preparatory Academy, had been talking with city schools officials since she opened the charter school in a church building on Fields Road in 2009.

“We were kind of first on the list because we’ve been talking for so many years about any available Memphis City Schools space,” Webb said this week as she and her staff continued planning for the opening of their school year on Aug. 16 at the same church building but also prepared for a move next year to Lakeview, the new home of Freedom Prep.

“We’re just fortunate that it came about in our neighborhood,” she said of Lakeview, which is about four miles from Freedom Prep. “We’ve opted for a delayed move. The thought of trying to move in a week is crazy.”

Freedom Prep has had to turn away students and going into next week, Webb has a head count of 297 children for the middle school, which has drawn students who attended Lakeview Elementary.

“We’re the only charter school in the Westwood-Whitehaven neighborhood,” she said. “We hope to keep the same families.”

Webb said the Lakeview building is move-in ready. As part of the lease with MCS, Freedom Prep will have to do the upkeep on the building and the grounds.

The transition is another indication that while the buildings remain the same in many cases in this last school year before the merger of city and county schools, much is changing beyond the still to be approved details of the merger that begins next August.

Freedom Prep’s current location is symbolic of the non-merger change. As Lakeview Elementary prepared for its last school year in the summer of 2011, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam came to Freedom Prep to sign into law the legislation that eliminated the cap on the number of charter schools in the state. Just a year earlier, the Tennessee Legislature had raised the cap on charter schools to 90.

Even before either bill was passed there were more charter schools in Memphis than any other city in the state.

“We’re the only charter school in the Westwood-Whitehaven neighborhood.”

–Roblin Webb
Founder of Freedom Preparatory Academy

In the same vote by the MCS board last month, a lease for Veritas College Prep to move to the old Georgia Avenue Elementary School was also approved. Veritas teachers and administrators will make the move to South Memphis this weekend. The Veritas school year begins Aug. 20.

Veritas has been at the old Federal Reserve Building at 168 Jefferson Ave. Downtown.

Last month, the Grizzlies Academy charter school reopened in the Downtown location. The building had been the original location of Grizzlies Academy before Veritas set up in the same building. The Grizzlies Academy still owned the building.

Meanwhile, plans by state education officials for a STEM school – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – for the West Tennessee region are to open such a school sometime in 2013.

The Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools systems each have been pursuing grant funding for separate STEM labs that could be used by students at numerous schools.

The state is working with Battelle Memorial Institute on a network of STEM schools that would include virtual STEM “labs” for all students to have access to, which is the thrust of the MCS plan.

The STEM school for Northeast Tennessee opened Monday as a joint venture between Kingsport City Schools and Sullivan County Schools. The Southeast Tennessee STEM School opens next week on the campus of Chattanooga State Community College and a third STEM initiative opened in July at two schools in Putnam County with a STEM hub for teachers in the region at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville.