White Ready to Take on Frayser High

By Bill Dries

Bobby White is so close that he sometimes has to remember that the decision about who will run Frayser High School won’t be made until December.


The outspoken former principal of nearby Westside Middle School who went to work for the Achievement School District and then started his own charter school company already has a plan for Frayser High. All he needs is permission in December.

The state-run Achievement School District will make the ultimate decision.

Frayser was one of three high schools in Memphis the Achievement School District identified last week as low-performing schools it will probably take into the district in the 2014-2015 school year.

Frayser is definitely going into the district. And the ASD will pick between the other two high schools – Fairley and Carver – and match charter school companies with those and the elementary and middle schools on its list.

“Politically, I had to make sure that I said I would love to serve any of those students in any of those neighborhoods,” White said Thursday, Sept. 12, at the weekly meeting of the Frayser Exchange Club. “But y’all know the real deal. We’re not called Frayser Community Schools for nothing.”

The weekly meeting is a regular stop for all of the players in the effort to rebuild Frayser. And last week it drew not only White, who hosted meetings of the group at Westside when he was principal. It also drew two representatives of Harambee Schools, a charter school company that hopes to work in elementary schools on the Achievement School District list next school year.

White formed his Frayser Community Schools group that would run what he proposes to rename Martin Luther King Jr. Preparatory High School through the Tennessee Charter School incubator.

White doesn’t take the name change lightly, saying while the school is renamed it would also be referred to as “on the Frayser High campus.” Another ASD charter operator, Cornerstone, encountered vocal community opposition last school year, in part, when it renamed Lester Elementary School.

White is a 1990 graduate of Frayser High School.

“I’m going to be a Ram for life. But there is a need to rebrand this school,” White said of the Frayser High mascot. “There is a negativity that people feel when they hear the name. We can somewhat disconnect that.”

Students now in the Frayser High School attendance zone would still attend Frayser as an Achievement school. Their parents would have to specifically opt out of Frayser to do otherwise.

White also plans to be a strict disciplinarian.

“I’m also a firm believer that any young male in my school has to have something to be afraid of. I just think that person needs to be me or one of the males in that building,” he said. “The school will be male-heavy, with men that look like the young men that we serve so they understand where the guidelines and boundaries are.”

White plans an aggressive door-to-door summer campaign to win over parents who were skittish this year about moving out of the Achievement District elementary and middle schools the ASD runs directly into Frayser High, which for the rest of this school year is a conventional high school.

The hesitancy prompted the start up of a ninth grade academy at Westside Achievement Middle School this school year.

ASD superintendent Chris Barbic has said 20 percent of the school age population in Frayser attends school outside Frayser, either in private or charter or optional schools.

White and his staff are working out details of a plan for a school that includes a graduation requirement to do community service in Frayser “so that we can build community,” White said.

“I think we are changing the face in Memphis of how people respect predominantly black communities,” he added. “At the end of the day, if we are not careful the charter movement could take place and these organizations could come into communities. And these folks could have agendas that don’t match ours.”

White sees what he wants to do at Frayser as part and parcel of broader efforts to revitalize the area. Before leaving as principal of Westside Middle School, White asked his honors eighth grade students to tell him what bothered them most about living in Frayser.

“They said folks around the city just don’t believe that we are as good as they are. They believe that all we do is this, this and this. Fill in the blank,” White said to the meeting room of 60 people. “That tore a hole through me. … We are at the beginning of this race to start the process to where we change the perception of everybody in this city about how they perceive and view the children, the schools and the neighborhood of Frayser.”