Achievement District Plans Include Two High Schools

By Bill Dries

The state-run Achievement School District has identified nine charter school operators that will run failing Memphis schools in the 2014-2015 school year including, for the first time, two high schools.

The naming of the charter school operators signals the beginning of plans for the third school year the special school district has operated.

Schools that are in the bottom 5 percent of the state’s schools in terms of student achievement are eligible for the school district which has its own superintendent appointed by the governor. The goal of the district is to bring student performance in those schools up to the level of a top 25 percent school in the state within five years.

The tentative charter plans call for Green Dot and Martin Luther King Jr. Prep to begin running grade 9-12 high schools in August 2014.

MLK Prep is being led by Bobby White Jr., the former principal of Westside Middle School who was instrumental in the middle school’s transformation into the Achievement School District. The charter organization hopes to operate in a Frayser high school, which would be either Frayser or Trezevant. The ASD directly operates schools – Corning and Frayser Elementary and Westside Middle – that are part of the feeder pattern into Frayser High School.

For the school year that begins this August, that will include a ninth grade “academy.”

ASD officials said the academy will remain separate from whatever high school MLK Prep might be matched with for the 2014-2015 school year. In the second school year of the academy it will expand to include a 10th grade.

ASD superintendent Chris Barbic has said the goal in the first year of the district was to focus on Frayser and affect the quality of students feeding into Frayser High School.

The Green Dot high school could expand to take in grades 6-12 in future years. Green Dot runs 18 middle and high schools serving more than 10,000 students in Los Angeles, including a high school in the school district of more than 3,000 students. It is the largest single school turnaround effort in the country.

Green Dot would begin running a high school in the school year after the countywide school board is expected to close Carver, Northside and Westwood High School. The three high schools are among a group of a dozen schools the countywide school system’s administration has recommended for closure as of August 2014. The school board and administration are about to begin public hearings in the affected communities that will determine whether the board moves further with the proposed closings.

The charter school operators include Freedom Preparatory Academy of Memphis which just last school year moved into the old Lakeview Elementary School after the school was closed by the countywide school board. For years before that, Freedom Prep operated in a church facility serving students in the Westwood and Whitehaven areas, including those in the attendance zone of Lakeview.

The other operators authorized by the Achievement School District are Artesian Community Schools, Harambee Elementary, Memphis Rise, Promise Academy, Scholar Academies and YES Prep Public Schools.

YES is the Houston-based open enrollment charter school management group founded by Barbic. Prior to founding YES, Barbic taught for six years in Houston’s school system.

Still to come is the process of matching the charter school organizations with the schools they will run. The process involves meetings with parent and community groups.

In its third year, the Achievement School District plans to operate either directly or through charters in 32 or 33 Memphis schools serving a total of 6,000 students.

That is an increase from the 16 schools up and running in the 2013-2014 school year that begins in August. The nine charter operators named Monday means seven or eight other schools will be run directly by the district.

The state-run schools, whether direct or charter run, enroll students even when they set up shop in existing schools. The students and their parents have the option of attending another conventional school they are assigned to by the countywide school system once the ASD enters their current school. Administrators, teachers and school staff must also reapply if they want to keep their jobs at the schools.

Harambee and Scholar would each start in August with kindergarten through fifth grades, with Scholar Academies growing their school in future school years to a K-8 school.

The phased-in ASD schools include Artesian beginning with the sixth grade in August 2014 of what would become a grades 6-8 school.

Memphis Rise would also start with a sixth grade in August 2014 in what would be a new start grade 6-8 school over several years. The group has said it hopes to operate in a Northeast Memphis school.

Freedom Prep and Promise would begin the same school year with kindergarten class phase-ins that would become kindergarten through fifth grade school takeovers.

And YES Prep would start in 2015 with a sixth grade phase in model that would become a 6-12 school in future years.