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VOL. 132 | NO. 97 | Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Haslam: Achievement School District Still Needed, But Changes Near

By Bill Dries

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Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says there is a continuing need for the state-run Achievement School District. But the school district for the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state, in terms of academic achievement, is being “streamlined,” Haslam said last week during a visit to the Aspire Coleman Elementary School in Raleigh.

“We think this school and other schools are on the right track,” Haslam told reporters Friday, May 12, after talking with ASD and school leaders as well as visiting three classrooms.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, center, visited Aspire Coleman Elementary School Friday, May 12. The school is part of the state-run Achievement School District.

(Daily News/Bill Dries)

The visit came a week after cuts in the ASD central office as well as in the part of ASD that directly runs a set of five schools in Frayser.

Of the 33 schools in the ASD, including two alternative schools, all but two are in Memphis.

Aspire Coleman is run by a charter school operator. The direct-run schools are known as “Achievement Schools” and were among the first takeovers by the ASD in the 2012-2013 school year, the first school year for the district.

“I think the ASD has a really critical role in what we are trying to do overall. …. I don’t see ASD going away,” Haslam said. “I think it will continue to be a part of what we do long term in education.”

The Tennessee Department of Education announced the staffing cutbacks after private grants to the ASD ran out following the end of Race To The Top federal funding as well.

Haslam said the changes are “to make sure we have a sustainable formula for how we are going to fund the ASD and the administration of those schools.”

In August or September, the state will release a new list of schools that are eligible for takeover by the ASD that applies standards in the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act. The “alpha track one” list complies with a new federal standard that says any school new to the bottom 5 percent list is first the focus of turn-around efforts by a local school district for several school years before it is eligible for a state takeover.

The specific standards for Tennessee are any school on the bottom 5 percent list in 2012 and again in 2014 that isn’t a level 4 or level 5 school currently in terms of its growth measured by the Tennessee Value Added Assessment System – or TVAAS – could be eligible for the ASD in the 2018-2019 school year.

Beyond that important change, the state will again run the list of the bottom 5 percent performing schools for the state in 2018 to determine which schools are still on the list, which are off the list and which are new to the list.

The direct-run schools in the ASD are all in Frayser and they were an effort to focus the school district’s original efforts in an area of the city that had the most schools in the bottom 5 percent.

The direct-run schools have also had the most difficulty posting gains or growth in student achievement compared to other schools in the ASD run by charter organizations.

ASD superintendent Malika Anderson, who was with Haslam on the tour, said later that the separate support teams for each of the direct-run schools are being integrated.

“I think we are deepening our impact,” she said. “We want to make sure that we are able to support and even deepen the support for our direct-run schools in Frayser through a sustainable system for years to come.”

When the Tennessee Legislature created the Achievement School District, the legislation also created and devoted extra state funding to Innovation Zone schools for conventional school districts like Shelby County Schools to also undertake turnaround models for bottom 5 percent schools.

The I-Zones do not use charter organizations, though. Early testing of the two turnaround school systems for bottom 5 percent schools by Vanderbilt University show the I-Zone schools outperforming the ASD schools.

State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, whose Memphis district includes Coleman Aspire, was also along for the tour of the school. And Parkinson later renewed his call to abolish the ASD.

“If it’s not moving the way you thought it was going to move or if there’s been some areas of mismanagement … then let’s be honest in those conversations so we can fix them,” he said. “Let’s put the resources where the model is working. Even if there are schools inside the ASD that are working – if that’s the best model, let’s look at the model and put the resources there.”

The ASD will be adding a new school in Nashville for the 2017-2018 school year that begins in August but none in Shelby County Schools.

Meanwhile, a Tennessee Attorney General’s opinion this month says the ASD cannot add grades to the schools it takes over. And the ruling means Aspire Coleman can’t keep its 8th grade unless Shelby County Schools agrees to that. SCS leaders have taken the position that they won’t act one way or the other to accept or reject the addition.

Haslam said he is hopeful the two school districts can work something out.

“I think there is a solution to be found if both sides will show flexibility,” he said. “At the end of the day the ASD and Shelby County Schools – they are partners.”

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