Achievement School District Prepares for Third Year

By Bill Dries

It was already official before Achievement School District superintendent Chris Barbic made the formal announcement last week.



Months ago, Barbic had confirmed that former Westside Middle School principal Bobby White would be leading the state-run school district’s effort at Frayser High School in the 2014-2015 school year.

White, a Frayser High alum, nevertheless donned a green baseball cap with the letter “F” on the front Thursday, Dec. 12, when Barbic did the honors.

White’s Frayser Community Schools opens what will be called Martin Luther King Jr. Preparatory School at Frayser High School in August in an area where the ASD already runs five schools directly.

“I was a part of the process from the beginning,” White said. “I think we have this unique ability to mirror a little further ahead in understanding what is going on.”

The emphasis on schools in Frayser, particularly in the feeder pattern to Frayser High School and now the high school itself, was a deliberate choice for the school district that was conceived as an effort to turn around the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state in terms of student achievement.

Parents at Westside Middle, which feeds into Frayser High, had enough concerns about the transition to the high school that the ASD started a ninth grade academy within Westside this school year.

In January, the district will open an alternative grades 7-12 school in the Northgate shopping center run by Pathways in Education, a charter school operator that specializes in overage students and drop outs seeking their high school diplomas.

“It’s working primarily with kids that are overage for grade, so kids that may be two or three years older than the grade they are in,” Barbic said. “It’s an opportunity for kids to get caught up with a little bit more individualized program.”

The students and their parents can opt to graduate from Pathways or return to the school they had been zoned to.

“We are at a point now where we’ve got a lot of folks coming and opening and what we want to do is look for those gaps in services and programs we can offer to kids,” Barbic added.

Because of the concentration of state-run schools in Frayser, White said the process of recruiting parents to give the schools a chance in an area where 12 of the 14 schools are in the bottom 5 percent isn’t as much of an unknown.

“I’m so proud that our community has gotten to the point where they feel confident and knowledgeable enough to really sit down at the table with a Chris Barbic or (Shelby County Schools superintendent) Dorsey Hopson and say this is what we would like to do in our schools,” White said.

Barbic said the transition to the next school year should be different in that regard because the ASD schools will compete on several fronts not only with standalone charter schools and Shelby County Schools for teachers but also with the six new suburban school systems that plan to open in August as well.

“Think about Shelby County three years ago, there were two primary educators. There were a few charter schools here. And that was it,” he said. “If you’re a great teacher now in Memphis, you are a rock star. … People are going to be competing for the best ones to come work at their schools and there’s going to be incentives and things to make that job attractive. It’s absolutely a different day in Memphis when it comes to being a teacher.”

Shelby County Schools board chairman Kevin Woods made the same point last week as the school board talked about priorities for the coming year.

“How do we attract students to this district?” Woods asked as he talked of making marketing and recruiting of teachers and students a priority. “Right now our students and our teachers have more options than they’ve ever had before.”

Shelby County Schools’ Dorsey Hopson agreed, saying other conventional school systems that haven’t considered marketing their schools past announcing attendance zone changes are now exploring how to do that in order to compete.

The other Achievement School District moves for the next school year are:

• Aspire Public Schools will move into Coleman Elementary School in Raleigh.

• Promise Academy will be at Spring Hill Elementary School, also in Raleigh.

• Freedom Prep Academy, which has a separate charter school already in southwest Memphis, will run Westwood Elementary School.

• Green Dot Public Schools goes to Fairley High School.

The transitions at Coleman, Frayser and Fairley will be in all grades at those schools next year.

The Spring Hill and Westwood transitions will be over several school years with Promise and Freedom Prep starting with pre-kindergarten through first grade in the 2014-2015 school years.