Barbic Says Coexistence at Humes Possible

By Bill Dries

The superintendent of the state-run Achievement School District believes there is room at Humes Middle School for an optional school and the ASD charter school now at Gordon Elementary School.


“We think we are looking at a building that allows us to do both,” Chris Barbic said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines,” hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News.

The show can be seen at The Daily News Online,

“We feel like there’s room to put the Gordon program back at Humes to serve the 450-500 kids that would potentially be in that middle school program from that attendance zone and also have plenty of room for the performing arts program,” Barbic said.

Countywide school board members are scheduled to get an update Tuesday, Feb. 26, from interim Memphis City Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson on the possible transition.

The countywide school board voted in December to close Humes as a conventional middle school at the end of the current school year and reopen it in August as Bravo Academy, an optional school for the musical arts operated by the consolidated school system.

When the current school year began last August, the Gordon charter school, operated for the Achievement School District by Gestalt Community Schools, opened with sixth graders from the Humes attendance zone. It is a gradual phase-in of the charter.

Barbic and the ASD initially wanted to set up shop in Humes but agreed instead to open in Gordon Elementary School. Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash resisted turning over the Humes school building to the Achievement School District citing its heritage and symbolism.

An optional school at Humes was Cash’s bid to compete for students with the ASD and charter schools in general.

Barbic and Cash made a deal for the first school year.

The Gordon Science and Arts Academy is adding another grade with the new school year in August and Barbic is taking the position that the Achievement School District can take the Humes building if it comes to that.

“We’ve really tried to put the students’ interests first. ... It’s been ... an arranged marriage.”

–Chris Barbic
Superintendent, Achievement School District

“I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that. But if it does we’re pretty confident that the way the law reads we were essentially serving Humes students before that school was closed,” Barbic said, adding that the Humes example could set a precedent in other parts of the state.

“We could see a situation where districts decide to close schools or change grade configurations or change attendance boundaries as ways to get around being in the ASD,” he said. “We wanted to make sure the law was very clear that there was no way for those sorts of things to happen.”

Barbic emphasized that he is not saying Memphis City Schools officials are trying to manipulate the Achievement School District law in that way. He and Hopson have said separately that they continue to work toward a resolution that doesn’t get to differing legal opinions.

Hopson, who was general counsel to Memphis City Schools before being appointed interim superintendent, disagrees with Barbic on the law.

“I think the board certainly has a right to close a school and take it out of the ASD zone,” Hopson told the school board last week. “I think the board would be on firm footing to say we closed it and we repurposed it and therefore it is not eligible for the ASD.”

The state re-ranks schools in the state by student achievement every three years. The re-ranking for purposes of those schools eligible for the state to take as part of the Achievement School District won’t happen for two more years.

Barbic contends that until that happens, even if one of those schools is closed by the local school district, it remains eligible for the Achievement School District.

“Until that list is rerun, we have the legal authority to serve the kids that go to that school and to do it with the Humes facility,” Barbic said.

He also added that the relationship between his school district and Memphis City Schools has involved some competition but more cooperation.

“I was expecting a pretty confrontational relationship,” Barbic said. “We’ve really tried to put the students’ interests first. … It’s been a little bit of an arranged marriage.”