VOL. 131 | NO. 85 | Thursday, April 28, 2016
SCS Board Eyes Three Charter School Closings
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Schools board members voted Tuesday, April 26, to close three Memphis charter schools performing in the bottom 5 percent of all schools statewide 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.
The actions come as the school system works toward a budget proposal for county leaders that is at least $50 million in the red. The red ink grows with the estimated $26 million in state funding that shows up in the SCS financial statements, but which passes through the school system on its way to the charters. The closings are part of the school system making a case for increased county funding for schools.
The school system has about 27,000 more seats than students, according to SCS Superintendent Dorsey Hopson.
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 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 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 SCS 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 contract 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 5 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 none of the six charters.
“I don’t think this body is prepared to do nothing,” he said, pointing 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 5 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 on the six closings each got five- or six-vote majorities from the nine-member board.
There was no board debate on the other actions.
The larger set of actions included approval 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.
Other changes approved Tuesday by the school board include:
• Dexter Elementary becoming a K-5 school, adding a 5th grade, and making Dexter Middle a grades 6-8 school. Attendance zones for both schools would remain the same.
• Cordova Elementary and Chimneyrock Elementary will get some students from Kate Bond Elementary and Riverwood Elementary, with new building additions at Cordova and Chimneyrock being used to relieve overcrowding at Kate Bond and Riverwood.
• Macon Hall Elementary will also see some of its students zoned to Riverwood and Chimneyrock.
• Berclair and Wells Station elementary schools also have building additions to relieve overcrowding in the Berclair area. Some Wells Station students will be zoned to Berclair and some Kingsbury Elementary students will be going to Wells Station in the transition.
• Sharpe Elementary’s zone will change, sending some of its students to Cherokee Elementary to reduce overcrowding at Sharpe and keep Sharpe from having to add more portable classrooms to the campus.
• Caldwell-Guthrie Elementary students living west of Danny Thomas Boulevard will be zoned to Downtown Elementary School.
• Some Kirby Middle students will attend Oakhaven Middle School.
• Spring Hill Elementary fourth and fifth grades become part of Keystone Elementary. Spring Hill’s K-3 grades are part of the state-run Achievement School District. Moving the upper grades that are not yet part of the ASD ends the last “co-location” school where an ASD school and a conventional SCS school co-exist in the same school building.
• Fairley Elementary School will be demolished. The school is to close at the end of the current school year with the opening of the new nearby Westhaven Elementary School.
• Martin Luther King Jr. Student Transition Academy, in the old Porter Junior High School building on Lauderdale, is also slated for demolition as it closes at the end of the current school year with its students merging into the Southwest Prep Academy.