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 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.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

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. The charter organization hopes to operate in a Frayser high school, 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.

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.

But he cautioned that the school matching process is still open with no decision until December on which charter operators are matched with which schools.

“He was one of the first leaders in the community that we were able to sit down and talk to and share our vision for what we’re trying to do in Frayser,” Barbic said of White.

A ninth grade academy in Frayser that starts with the next school year will be separate from the plans for a Frayser charter high school and add a 10th grade in the 2014-2015 school year.

“It’s going to give parents and families more options in Frayser,” Barbic said. “I think what we see is a lot of families when they reach certain points, whether its middle or high school, they feel like they have to start looking outside the Frayser community to be able to go to a great 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.

Achievement School District leaders are watching the process closely to see if they might match those communities with the state-run school district.

“We’ve been pretty diligent about looking at the entire city as a whole,” said Malika Anderson, chief portfolio officer for the district. “That means the ASD can’t operate in a vacuum.”

Barbic said the consideration for the ASD is why those schools proposed for closing have lost students.

“Is it under-enrolled because parents have voted with their feet and gone other places?” he said. “If it’s just there aren’t enough kids there to sustain a school, we don’t want to put a charter there and put them in a situation where they are not going to be able to run a school that’s financially viable and offer the kind of programs that they want to offer kids.”

The charter school operators also 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.

In its third school 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.