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VOL. 131 | NO. 84 | Wednesday, April 27, 2016

SCS Board Votes To Close Three Charters

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Schools board members voted Tuesday, April 26, to close three Memphis charter schools in the bottom five percent of all schools state wide in terms of student achievement. And the board set in motion a series of public hearing on closing two conventional high schools – Northside and Carver -- as well as the Messick Adult Center.

Carver students would be rezoned to attend Hamilton High School with Northside students attending Manassas High School if the board approves the closings as part of the larger changes that take effect with the new school year in August.

The charter schools the board voted Tuesday to close are Omni Prep Lower and Middle schools and Southern Avenue Middle School.

The board voted down recommendations by superintendent Dorsey Hopson to also close three other charters, KIPP Memphis Collegiate Middle School, KIPP Collegiate High School and the Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering (MASE).

The resolutions approving the charter closings cite the financial impact of the charter schools on the school system as well as contracts the charters have with the school system to meet certain academic standards.

“The charter schools say here’s what we are going to do and they make a contract to do so,” Hopson told board members, adding that the six schools had not lived up to the contract whose terms they set.

But some board members, including Chris Caldwell, argued the closings were not being done in an open and transparent way.

“We can close these schools by the letter of the law,” he argued. “That does not mean it’s the right thing to do. How we operate does make a difference.”

He wanted to wait at least another school year to set criteria for such closings.

Board member Billy Orgel countered that the board was acting in an open meeting with debate after hearing from charter school advocates.

“They tell us what they are going to do and how they are going to perform. These are the turnaround models,” Orgel said. “God bless you for taking a stand.”

Other board members said the bottom five percent list should be the factor in closing the schools – not the state’s recently-run bottom 10 percent list.

Board member Kevin Woods picked a middle ground between closing some or closing none of the six charters.

“I don’t think this body is prepared to do nothing,” he added, pointed to the closing of more than a dozen conventional schools in recent years for low student performance and shrinking student populations. “We consistently make decisions and defend them.”

Board member Shante Avant agreed with the bottom five percent as the threshold.

“I think we send the wrong message if we don’t vote to close low performing schools that are district schools and charter schools … across the board,” she said.

The six separate votes were each with five and six vote majorities of the nine-member board.

There was no board debate on the other actions.

The larger set of actions including approval of a move to restructure Raleigh Egypt High School as a grade 6-12 school. The addition of middle school grades in the new school year coincides with Raleigh-Egypt Middle School becoming a part of the state-run Achievement School District.

The expansion of the high school gives middle school parents a choice between the ASD and the newly reconfigured Raleigh Egypt 6-12.

The school system earlier went to a 6-12 grade reconfiguration for Booker T. Washington High School.

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