Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court officials say a charter school proposed by former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton for juvenile offenders including those accused of the most serious crimes would provide those children with a critical continuity they need.
Juvenile Court chief administrative officer Larry Scroggs said Herenton’s W.E.B DuBois Academy would dovetail with the Hope Academy School that juvenile offenders in custody currently attend for a shorter period of time.
Hope Academy is operated by the Memphis City Schools system. Shelby County Schools operate a similar alternative school.
“When we lose the grip on them is when they go back into their regular school environments,” Scroggs said. “It becomes problematic for them. They obviously in most cases have not done well in those environments. And yet we see their potential demonstrated.”
Herenton has proposed and state officials have approved his plan for a charter school with a very regimented structure that would include not only academics but counseling on behavior and discipline as well as for mental health problems. State officials approved the charter school application on appeal. It and numerous other charter school applications were rejected by the countywide school board on the grounds they would pose a financial hardship on both local public school systems.
Tennessee Treasurer David Lillard rejected the specific claim of financial hardship.
Herenton has since said the delay has made it unlikely he could get his charter schools up and running for the next school year that begins Aug. 6.
Scroggs indicated the court is working with Herenton on a plan that would be for the 2013-2014 school year at the earliest. The school would fall under the Tennessee Charter Schools Act.
“His idea, which I think is really good, is the kids that would go there would stay there,” Scroggs said of a school that parents would have to consent to keep their children in. “They would be there for the duration – their high school career. That’s the beauty of it.”
With Hope Academy, juvenile offenders could be in the more disciplined and regimented environment for as little as two weeks or as long as a semester under the terms of their detention.
“Our problem is in our community these kids sometimes go to two different schools in one school year,” Scroggs said.
Dan Michael, Juvenile Court chief magistrate, said the results in just a short amount of time with Hope Academy have been transformative even among the most serious offenders in custody.
“They just blossom,” Michael said. “It’s amazing.”
Scroggs talked for the first time about the Herenton proposal after speaking Tuesday, July 24, to the Memphis Rotary Club about the 102-year history of the court.