High School Addition

Frayser 9th Grade Academy signals key ASD move

By Bill Dries

Three weeks before the first school year of the Achievement School District ended in May, parents and students at Westside Achievement Middle School began to prepare for the addition of a separate ninth-grade academy at the Frayser school opening this August.

Frayser will get a new school in the fall when the Achievement School District adds a ninth-grade academy to be housed at Westside Middle School. Frayser Elementary, shown here, is a feeder school into Westside.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

Frayser 9th Grade Academy will operate a ninth grade with the middle school in another indication that the state-run school district for the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state, in terms of students’ performance, is about to take the next step into high school education.

Russ Ramsey, the principal of the academy, is preparing for the debut as teachers in Memphis are undergoing their training in the new state Common Core achievement standards students will have to meet whether they attend conventional schools, charter schools or the Achievement School District schools.

“It is all the things that make a high school a high school. We’ll have extracurriculars. We’ll have a college preparatory curriculum that will prepare them for post-secondary success wherever they choose for that to be,” Ramsey said. “We started recruiting only at Westside. …We expanded that and have gotten that out to other middle schools.”

Parents have to choose to enroll their children in ASD schools. Otherwise they attend conventional schools students are assigned to based on where they live.

Frayser 9th Grade Academy has a goal of 120 ninth graders and the ASD has handed out information or talked to the parents of 90 to 100 so far in the general Frayser area.

“The plan is to add grades until it becomes a full 9-12 school,” Ramsey said. “Location becomes trickier as we try and forecast where we are going to be and what that looks like. I know capacity-wise we won’t be able to hold an entire high school and middle school at Westside. We will be making some changes somewhere.”

Those particular changes will be part of larger changes for an area that now has two conventional high schools – Frayser and Trezevant.

One or both of Frayser’s high schools could become part of the Achievement School District in the 2014-2015 school year.

The district has named its charter school providers for that school year with a matching process still to come to match the providers with specific schools.

ASD leaders have noted Martin Luther King Preparatory School of Memphis wants to operate in a high school in Frayser. That is the new charter school led by Bobby White, the former principal of Westside Middle and an alum of Frayser High School.

And Frayser High School is the high school for all three Frayser elementary and middle schools in the Achievement School District – Westside, Corning and Frayser elementary schools.

Jeremy Jones of the district, who is supporting and coordinating efforts between Ramsey and Dirk Bedford, the principal of Westside Middle, said whether White ends up leading Frayser High in a high school conversion or Trezevant or has a standalone charter high school depends on the matching process.

“We know Bobby is well connected here in the Frayser area,” Jones said.

“He wants to be here. He’s got relationships here. That totally makes sense. In terms of where his actual bricks and mortar school is going to be and which kids he will serve, we don’t know the answers to that yet.”

Ramsey and Jones said the move to a ninth-grade academy starting in August was a result of Westside parents asking about such an option.

“Traditionally if we didn’t have this option, our kids would be going over to Frayser High School,” Jones said.

“Frayser is still a priority school,” he added, referring to the state’s designation for the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state in terms of student achievement. “That’s certainly an option. That school choice part, I think, is really critical for parents.”

Ramsey is an educator from Charlotte and Gaston, N.C., schools who before coming to Memphis worked in education research at Vanderbilt University of Nashville where he earned a master’s degree in public policy.

As Westside makes room for the ninth graders starting in August, the middle school curriculum will continue to focus more on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in Westside’s second school year in the state-run district.

“We are increasing the number of opportunities kids have to engage with real-world STEM subjects,” Ramsey said as he added the middle school and his academy will also work on basic literacy skills.