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VOL. 127 | NO. 41 | Wednesday, February 29, 2012

State Targets Six Schools to Operate

By Bill Dries

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A group of six Memphis city elementary and middle schools are about to change substantially in the next year as the state has announced it will step in to run them.

The changes announced this week as part of the state-run Achievement School District underscore larger changes to education across the country along the lines of charter school reforms.

Lester and Gordon elementary schools will be converted to state-run charter schools under the state’s achievement school district. The state-run district also will operate Corning and Frayser elementary schools and Westside Middle as achievement schools.

Achievement School District Superintendent Chris Barbic, who made the announcement Monday, Feb. 27, also said he and Memphis City Schools officials have worked out plans for a new KIPP Academy within Cypress Middle that will be a cohabitation model.

Lester’s state-run charter school will be operated by Cornerstone Prep, a local nonprofit, which plans to phase in the kindergarten through fifth grade school starting with kindergarten through the third grades in the 2012-2013 school year and adding grades four and five the next year.

Gordon will be operated by Gestalt Community Schools, which currently operates Power Center Academy on the New Direction Christian Church campus in Hickory Hill.

Its conversion will be different than Lester’s. Gordon Elementary will retain its elementary school and will add the charter school, which will be open to only students from schools rated in the bottom 5 percent of student achievement in the state.

Most of those schools are in the city schools system.

Gordon’s charter school, which will be called Gordon School of Arts and Sciences, will start with the sixth grade in the 2012-2013 school year and add the seventh and eighth grades in future years.

The charter schools are the first in MCS to operate within an existing school. The charter status lasts for 10 years. The state then begins a “renewal process” in which new collaborative agreements could be worked out with other schools.

The state had named the three operators last year but had not decided which schools would be home to the charter operations.

Meanwhile, Corning, Frayser and Westside will remain neighborhood schools with no changes to their attendance zones. Under state control, they will be funded on the same per pupil formula basis as all schools in the state.

The six schools will see changes in school culture that could include longer school days, an infusion of new teachers as all teachers and staff reapply for their jobs, expanded early childhood education and additional support programs for students.

The goal for Westside, Frayser and Corning is ambitious. Barbic said the ASD’s goal is to bring each of the three schools to the ranks of the top 25 percent of schools across the state in terms of student performance and get there in five years.

Efforts at the three schools, all in Frayser, are an attempt to affect a feeder pattern among 10 Frayser schools including Frayser High School, at the top of the feeder pattern.

Of the 10 schools, only two – Westside Middle and Georgian Hills Elementary – are not in the state’s bottom 5 percent. Westside is a recent conversion to middle school status after decades as a high school.

Barbic has told Memphis educators that affecting the feeder pattern has to start with elementary and middle schools instead of high schools because that is where children fall behind first.

“Focusing on feeder patterns allows us to be more creative and innovative in our efforts to help students achieve academically,” Barbic said Monday in a written statement.

Barbic plans to hold parent information sessions March 8, March 15 and March 20.

Barbic sent a recorded telephone message Monday evening to the homes of the 1,300 students at the three schools to be run by the state to announce the changes starting in August.

Earlier in the day, he met with teachers and staff on each affected campus.

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