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VOL. 129 | NO. 203 | Friday, October 17, 2014

Schools Leaders Move Toward Cooperation

By Bill Dries

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As the Achievement School District weighs a short list of a dozen low-performing Memphis schools for the state-run school district in the next school year, Shelby County Schools officials are involved in the selection process far more than they have been in past years.

Freedom Prep is among the charter school operators being considered to run schools in the Achievement School District next school year.

(Daily News File/Kyle Kurlick)

The ASD leaders will make their decision in December on which of the 12 schools to take in the school district that is now in its second school year of operation.

Like the Achievement School District, Shelby County Schools pulls from the same list of the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state in terms of student achievement test results for its Innovation Zone schools.

And while the two compete, their choice of schools also involves some coordination.

I-Zone schools have greater autonomy than conventional schools. Like ASD schools, teachers and administrators reapply for their jobs. They also have more resources in terms of intervention with students who fall behind during the school year to catch them up before the end of the school year.

“What we wanted to establish during this year’s process was … far more collaboration,” said Shelby County Schools Innovation chief Brad Leon of the ASD selection process. “We wanted to be at the table every step along the way so that we could be there for our employees. We could be there for our kids and our communities.”

Leon said some of that was based on feedback about the school system’s distance from the process, which in the case of the 12 schools on the short list begins later this month with meetings at several of the schools.

Leon also said more involvement by Shelby County Schools on the front end reflects that the state-run school district is to start returning the schools it takes over to Shelby County Schools after five years.

So far, talks are just beginning about how that process will work.

“We know that the schools are going to come back to Shelby County Schools governance at some point in the future,” Leon said. “We still have a lot of work to do to lay out that process.”

The process will also involve talks with the Tennessee commissioner of education as well.

ASD superintendent Chris Barbic has talked in general of parents at the schools being able to petition the state and/or the Shelby County Schools board to keep charter operators now running most of the schools in place or the creation of new charter entities in the five schools that are run directly by the Achievement School District in Memphis.

The Achievement School District system has 23 schools currently, one in Nashville and 22 in Memphis.

Barbic and his staff have already made the decision to include South Side and Wooddale middle schools as well as Raleigh Egypt High School in the district next school year.

South Side and Wooddale had been on the list of possible schools for the district in the current academic year but were not selected then as the district waited a school year to see if student achievement would improve.

All of the schools chosen would be run by charter school organizations who will be matched with schools based on meetings and other input from parents, teachers and community members in the coming months.

The final list of schools and the assignment of schools to charter operators will be announced in December.

Malika Anderson, chief portfolio officer for the Achievement School District, said the previous two selection processes have taught the school district that it needs to be clear in making the case to parents and teachers about the state taking over schools.

Anderson said the ASD will “work to understand so that there is no question as to why this school is on the list when you are looking objectively at the data.”

Anderson said the experience of the first two years of the district has shown that the schools need autonomy at the individual school level because of the academic ground teachers and principals are attempting to make up.

“The intervention that is required to support them has to be as unique as the students. Often when schools are within large districts, they are focused on centralized decision making and around consistency of implementation of interventions that are absolutely research-based best practices in most cases,” she said. “The principals sometimes don’t have the flexibility that they need to make decisions when they need to make them to best serve their students. We believe autonomous schools – charter or conventional – are in the best position to make very swift data driven decisions about how best to serve students and help kids who are so far below grade level.”

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