Districts for Low-Performing Schools Make Picks

By Bill Dries

After one school year watching each other, leaders of the state-run Achievement School District and the countywide school system’s set of Innovation Zone schools got together this summer to compare notes and figure out which low-achieving schools each would take for the 2014-2015 school year.

A dozen more Memphis schools in the countywide school system will be making the transition to the school system’s Innovation Zone or the state-run Achievement School District in the 2014-2015 school year. Leaders of both efforts announced their list of schools they want for the coming school year.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

Both work in schools in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state in terms of student achievement.

“If we were trying to do this on our own and attempting to serve 68 schools independently, the time it would take to meaningfully address the needs of students in those schools would be way too long,” said Malika Anderson, chief portfolio officer for the ASD. “Together we can have the scale we want to reach as many students as we possibly can.”

So those leading the two sets of schools with common goals worked together on their school selections to follow school feeder patterns each have pursued in certain parts of the city.

Teachers, principals and parents of students at each of the schools were notified Tuesday, Sept. 10, of the coming changes.

The list from the Achievement School District includes nine Memphis schools, but only eight will become part of the district in its third school year of operation.

The schools are Coleman, Denver, Springhill and Westwood elementary schools; South Side and Wooddale middle schools; and two schools chosen among Carver, Fairley and Frayser high schools.

The schools will be matched in December with charter school operators. ASD leaders indicated Tuesday that for the high schools, the choice is probably between Carver and Fairley, depending on what they hear from parents and community leaders at each high school.

Frayser High School’s entry into the district has been expected because of the Achievement School District’s work in its first school year with elementary and middle schools that feed students into Frayser High.

The list from the Innovation Zone Schools is five: Vance and Grandview Heights middle schools and Melrose, Hamilton and Trezevant high schools.

Vance Middle School is the only one of the five not involved in a feeder system of schools in which the Innovation Zone is already working.

The schools that made the respective lists for next school year were picked based on those lagging the most in math and English language arts achievement scores, similar indications in Tennessee Value Added Assessment System scores, and areas of the city with the highest density of “priority” or failing schools.

“We hold ourselves accountable … to making sure there are double-digit gains in proficiency across subjects and grade levels and that all of our schools are level five on growth,” said Brad Leon, chief innovation officer for Shelby County Schools. “It’s going to be a long-term proposition, but if we are doing that year on year, they are going to get the promise of public education.”

The Innovation Zone schools have more autonomy, longer school days and more intensive intervention than conventional public schools in Shelby County. But they are considered part of the countywide school system.

The Achievement School District is a separate school district whose superintendent is appointed by the Tennessee governor.

Both of the districts, which involve rehiring teachers and school administrators and giving them greater autonomy, will also venture next school year into high schools for the first time.

“It’s a whole other world,” Anderson said of the move into grades nine to 12. “Once a student reaches high school, if they’ve been in an underperforming school for most of their career, they are significantly further behind. For our ninth-graders this year, they are starting four and five years below grade level. … We have to be prepared to provide more intensive intervention to be able to bring them up faster.”

Leon agreed about the greater challenges than with elementary and middle school students.

“We’re going to make sure that we build a team that has exceptionally high expectations and that believes in the inherent greatness of our kids to achieve at the absolutely maximum level,” he said.

The ASD holds meetings with parents in its nine schools Monday and Tuesday evenings. Innovation Zone leaders also plan to meet with parents and community leaders from the schools they have selected.

Sharon Griffin, Innovation Zone regional superintendent, expects the meetings involving the high schools will draw larger numbers and lots of questions.

“I think a lot of the confusion is behind ‘why’: ‘Why was I selected?’ When you answer that ‘why,’ the community partnerships begin to come,” she said. “It hasn’t been as hard as I think it could be once we explain why it happened.”