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VOL. 129 | NO. 211 | Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Charter School Resistance Flares

By Bill Dries

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When leaders of the Yes Prep charter group walked into a hostile meeting at American Way Middle School Monday, Oct. 27, set up by the Achievement School District, they also walked into a “Save Our School” rally organized by opponents of the school’s takeover by the state-run district.

The result was a tumultuous show of opposition in which Yes Prep leaders left without getting to make their case for running the school for the ASD.

The series of meetings continues Wednesday, Oct. 29, at Wooddale Middle, A. Maceo Walker Middle and Denver Elementary.

Monday’s encounter at American Way is not the first time a charter school operator and the ASD have faced opposition at a school on the list for a possible takeover. But it was the best organized in the three-year history of the matching process.

Last year, Carver High School supporters, students and parents were quieter but no less insistent as they first made the case against being included in the Achievement School District and then made the case against Shelby County Schools closing it. In both cases, they prevailed.

Area residents were vocal in their objections to Lester Elementary becoming Cornerstone Prep at Lester, a charter school operated by Capstone Education Group in the 2012-2013 school year.

But Capstone and Achievement School District leaders were quick to distinguish between community members with no children at the school and parents of children attending the school.

In announcing this month the list of possible new schools in the ASD for the 2015-2016 school year this month, Achievement School District leaders said the process of matching schools with charter operators would learn from the two previous years’ experience and focus on the consistently high numbers of underachieving students. This year’s effort also seeks to better explain the state takeover process.

The ASD targets schools in the bottom 5 percent in Tennessee in terms of student achievement.

Corry Middle School teachers at a matching session in 2012 argued against a takeover, and ASD officials pointed out that, according to state achievement test results, only one in every 20 students at the school was at grade level in reading and math. The average for schools in the bottom 5 percent was one in 10.

Corry Middle debuted as a KIPP Memphis Collegiate charter school for students zoned to Corry in the 2013-2014 school year starting with the fifth grade.

Meanwhile KIPP Memphis and Freedom Preparatory Academy announced Monday they are bowing out of plans to operate new schools in the ASD next year.

KIPP was to run South Side Middle starting next August, ASD leaders announced earlier this month as they named other Memphis schools that could possibly join the district and the charter operators they could potentially be matched with.

Freedom Prep was under consideration to run either A.B. Hill Elementary or Florida-Kansas Elementary in the 2015-2016 school year. But leaders of the academy also announced Monday that, like KIPP, they won’t be joining the ASD next school year.

The decision means South Side and A.B. Hill will remain in Shelby County Schools next year. Florida-Kansas Elementary could still be matched with Scholar Academies, a Philadelphia-based charter operator.

KIPP and Freedom Prep each run existing charter schools outside the Achievement School District.

Of their seven Memphis schools, KIPP runs three within the ASD and is adding grades in its phased-in approach at those schools next year. All were factors in KIPP’s decision to pass on the matching process for new schools to join the ASD. KIPP operates four charter schools in Memphis outside the ASD.

South Side had been on the list of possible schools to join the Achievement School District in the current school year. Ultimately the district did not select South Side then, citing parents and community groups in the area who opposed the selection and argued they could improve the performance of students.

ASD leaders selected South Side for the coming year, saying the school has not shown signs of improvement.

Freedom Prep opened in 2009 in a church life center in southwest Memphis and has since moved into the old Lakeview Elementary building nearby. The school was the setting for Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to sign into law the bill that eliminated the state’s cap on the number of charter schools allowed by law.

Freedom Prep leaders also cited their desire to focus on the growth of its existing school before taking on one in the Achievement School District.

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