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VOL. 127 | NO. 254 | Monday, December 31, 2012

Changes on Horizon for Achievement School District

By Bill Dries

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As the Achievement School District added six low performing Memphis schools in December for the new school year that begins in August, the leader of the state-led district was in Memphis to deal with backlash in the community around one of the six existing Memphis Schools that have been part of the district since last August.

Parents of some students and even NBA and University of Memphis basketball player Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, an alum of Lester School, showed up at the countywide school board meeting this month to complain about how charter school operator Cornerstone Prep is running the school.

Cornerstone is running Lester Elementary School under a contract with the Achievement School District. The complaints range from teachers not letting students go to the bathroom to a group of alumni wearing “Lester” T-shirts who want the Lester name to remain.

Achievement School District superintendent Chris Barbic and Cornerstone leaders met with the parents and community members about their concerns.

“We’ve got all the confidence in the world that the team at Cornerstone are providing a really high quality education for kids,” Barbic said. “If there’s things that we can do better we will.”

The selection of a second round of Achievement School District schools was different than the first round. It started earlier and plans to add 10 new schools were changed to add six new schools.

“There was literally no infrastructure in place. There were two pages of legislation and a group of three people,” Barbic said of the environment at the dawn of the school district for the bottom 5 percent of public schools in the state in terms of student achievement.

The move into and selection of communities moved faster then than it did this fall.

“We had an idea of where we thought we were going to end up. But we didn’t want to walk in with some pre-determined quota,” Barbic said of the second round. “There really was a process. It was done with integrity and we did listen to what communities had to say. There were some schools in the group that we felt like had strong leadership and some good plans. We felt like we need to give the leaders and their plans a chance to work the plan.”

Now that the new schools to come on line in August have been selected, Barbic hopes to increase the number of teachers current at the six schools who apply to work for his school district.

All school employees, including teachers and administrators reapply for their jobs under the conversion to the Achievement School District. In the three schools in Frayser that were part of the initial group of schools that opened last August, only 30 percent of the teachers already at those schools applied. Of that group who applied, the Achievement School District offered jobs to 75 percent of them.

“We can’t make a job offer to someone who doesn’t apply for the job. … I’m hoping that this year with us being a little bit less unknown – we are little bit more of a known commodity,” Barbic said.

Barbic also has a new teacher pay plan of $40,000 for first year teachers, which is equal what Memphis City Schools pays first year teachers. By the fifth year, ASD teachers who perform well could be making $62,500 which is “significantly more” than a fifth year Memphis City Schools teacher, Barbic says. And a master teacher under new teacher performance and merit pay programs the city school system is using as well as the achievement school district, mean Barbic could pay master teachers up to $90,000 beyond the fifth year.

“After the really effective teachers have been identified we want to reward them. We don’t want to reward them based on whether they’ve got a masters degree or Ph.D.,” he said. “We think those things are only important if they lead to better outcomes for kids. … It rewards teachers for performance.”

The charter school operators that are part of the district have their own pay scales that are set independent of the schools run directly by the Achievement School District.

One of the new charter school operators has been watching how the Achievement School District worked in Frayser, an area of focus for Barbic where he hopes the school district’s focus on Westside Middle School and Corning and Frayser Elementary will affect Frayser High School, the end of the feeder pattern for a larger set of schools.

“I think the achievement school district has done a good job of engaging the Frayser community and really partnering with the Frayser community,” said Allison Leslie, executive director of the Memphis region for Aspire Public Schools. “I think that’s something that we’ll definitely want to do”

Aspire will run Hanley Elementary School in Orange Mound next school year in a single year takeover of a conventional public school. It is Aspire’s first venture outside California.

The school’s timetable includes enrolling all of the children now attending or coming into Hanley by March 2. Students in achievement schools have the option of transferring to other schools. Their parents have a choice in being part of the Achievement School District. Leslie’s other goal is to have all of the teachers, a principal and other staff hired by May 1.

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