VOL. 127 | NO. 110 | Wednesday, June 6, 2012
State ASD Charter Schools Unveiled
By Bill Dries
Memphis City Schools officials formally turned over the school buildings Tuesday, June 5, that will become part of the state-run Achievement School District starting with the new school year in August.
Students cheer on fifth grader Latrell during reading class at KIPP Memphis Collegiate Middle.
(Photo Courtesy of KIPP Memphis Collegiate Schools)
That includes the three schools in Frayser managed by the ASD and two other schools that charter school operators under contract with the ASD will run in existing Memphis City Schools.
As that was happening, Achievement School District officials named five more charter operators who will work in the local public school system the following school year – 2013-2014 – the first year of the merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools.
The five operators named in Nashville Monday, June 4, include Gestalt Community Schools, which operates Power Center Academy in Hickory Hill. Gestalt will also run a charter school within Gordon Elementary School when the 2012-2013 school year begins in August. Cornerstone Prep will open at Lester Elementary School in August.
The other charter school operators named this week as part of the ASD district in the following school year and specifically the Memphis part of the district are Aspire Public Schools, Capstone Education Group, KIPP Memphis and Rocketship Education.
The ASD is not a school district based on geography. It is a grouping of the state’s bottom 5 percent of schools in terms of student performance.
Terms of the agreements between the ASD and each operator are still being worked out. That includes matching the charter school operators to a specific community.
Unlike the two ASD charter schools that begin in August in Memphis, the next tier for the following school year will not set up in existing schools.
“Now the work begins on the community matching process. That will take place all throughout the summer and early fall,” said Jeremy Jones of the ASD. “Our charge is to make sure that these folks are serving kids that are either currently attending or zoned to bottom 5 percent schools. But they are not going to be doing any converting work in this round.”
Rocketship Education, a San Jose, Calif., charter school company, would operate ASD schools in Nashville and Memphis. The Nashville school would open in the 2013-2014 school year. The Memphis school would open the following academic year.
“Tennessee right now has kind of gotten everything aligned and has this kind of political will such that it’s really interested in people coming to help out with the most at-risk kids,” said John Danner, the cofounder and CEO of the group of five schools serving 2,400 students. “That shouldn’t be that unusual. But it’s still somewhat unusual across the country.”
Leaders of Rocketship and all of the other applicants selected by the ASD were in Memphis in January when ASD superintendent Chris Barbic and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam held what amounted to a charter school fair designed to get the operators interested. In January, some of the operators asked Haslam what they should know about the Memphis education scene at the outset. Haslam brought up the coming merger of the county’s two public school systems.
“It’s probably not ideal to have school districts changing over,” Danner said this week. “The mitigating factor for us is because the Achievement School District is the authorizer, the relationship is really with the Achievement School District. So we can afford for Memphis to kind of get its ducks in a row over the next few years without being directly dependent on how that plays out.”
Danner is the former chairman of the Charter School Resource Center of Tennessee for four years and was founding director of KIPP Academy Nashville after teaching in the Nashville public school system for three years.
“All in all, we’d much rather have a very, very stable school district that we’re working in,” Danner said. “But I used to live in Nashville and spent a lot of time in Memphis when I was here. I know Memphis has been through a lot of things. In the short term, we’re just going to have to deal with it.”