The organizers of the Achievement School District chose the middle ground on a hot Saturday afternoon in Frayser.
The parking lot between Frayser High School and Frayser Elementary School, the school the state-run district will oversee starting next month, had inflatable slides, a climbing wall, video dance games, mobile dental and eye care clinics, and plenty of ice and water.
At the Saturday, July 21, block party to mark the ASD’s home stretch to the start of the school year Aug. 6, the teachers from three ASD schools in Frayser wore T-shirts reading “Find Me In Frayser.”
Frayser Elementary, Corning Elementary and Westside Middle School – which are part of the feeder pattern into Frayser High School – are all being run by the ASD as the opening move in a bid by the state to turn Tennessee schools in the bottom 5 percent statewide in terms of student achievement test scores into top 25 schools within five years.
Parents of students in the attendance zone for the three schools can opt to have their children attend another school run by Memphis City Schools. And the ASD teams are telling parents they have a choice. They expect most if not all of the parents will keep their children in the schools in what has been a campaign in the area that has run parallel to the ongoing political campaigns.
The block party followed weeks of repeated canvassing efforts in seven Frayser apartment complexes by teachers and leaders of the Achievement School District, including superintendent Chris Barbic.
“Instead of opening up the school and waiting for the parents to come to us, we are going to the parents,” Barbic said. “It just says a lot about how committed we are to making that relationship work.”
The teams went through the apartments two or three times each and that’s not counting direct mail pieces and phone calls to parents.
“We’re starting to come across a lot more parents who know what we are doing,” Barbic said.
While children moved Wii wands to make avatars dance to Michael Jackson’s “Blood on the Dance Floor,” their parents picked up packets of information about school registration and were sought out by teachers.
The Frayser High School and Elementary School campus is surrounded by apartment, complexes including one where the boarded up units face Frayser High. Another one of the apartment complexes on Steele Street is familiar territory for police who had a visible presence Saturday on the school grounds.
Further west on Dellwood Avenue, the brick wall of one of the oldest structures in Frayser, the Poor Clare Monastery, shows a few barely readable patches of old gang graffiti. The newest and more visible graffiti is a logo that reads “Hoover” – a word that could indicate the possible presence of one of two street gangs in the area.
“It seems that this area has been forgotten. Someone needs to go back and help the neighborhood,” said Glenda Moses, who will teach fourth grade at Corning starting next month – a voluntary move on her part in a 20-year-plus teaching career. “I feel that I have a need to teach children where they are, to pull them up to let them know we are going to care for you. Teachers wear a number of hats.”
Teachers and administrators at all of the ASD schools had to reapply or apply for the jobs. And Barbic has been blunt about the long hours and after schoolwork that will be required of them.
At Westside Middle, principal Bobby White and Theodore King left to take positions with the ASD overseeing all three schools.
“We see the potential where other people might not,” King said, emphasizing a point the canvassing teams have been making over and over again with parents. White is a graduate of Frayser High. King lives in Frayser with his wife and children.
“This is where I call home,” King said. “I know what a great community this is. It just has a bad reputation that can be easily dispelled.”
Also at the block party was a table for parents to learn more about Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic school, also in Frayser, and a booth for the Frayser Exchange Club, whose president – Shelly Rice – is a Trezevant High School alumni from the 1960s.
“Of course, everything in life changes. We understand that,” said Rice, whose club has held its weekly meetings in all of the ASD schools in recent months. “We’ve seen the changes that have taken place over the years. But we also see the new children coming up and they need that opportunity going forward.”