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VOL. 132 | NO. 90 | Friday, May 5, 2017

ASD Sheds 29 Employees in ESSA Shift

By Bill Dries

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The state-run Achievement School District is losing 29 employees including 13 who are involved in the direct running of the first schools in Frayser taken over by the district in 2012.

The changes, which include another 16 positions in the central office, are the most significant change to the district for the bottom 5 percent of public schools in the state in terms of academic achievement.

All but two of the 33 schools in the ASD, including two alternative schools, are in Memphis.

The Achievement School District began in the 2012-2013 school year by focusing on bottom 5 percent schools in Frayser choosing to run them directly instead of bringing in charter school operators as the ASD has done with schools added in later school years.

Further details of the changes were to be announced next week. ASD superintendent Malika Anderson and Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen met with school district staff Thursday, May 4, to outline the coming changes.

“The choices we have made will position us to make the type of future impact that is in the best interest of students and families in the neighborhoods we serve,” Anderson said in a written statement later Thursday.

McQueen said the changes reflect the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act – or ESSA – that says a school new to the bottom 5 percent is no longer automatically eligible for takeover by the ASD.

Instead, the local school district must be given four school years to turn-around the low performing school and the ASD is considered a remedy beyond that.

McQueen said the action outlined Thursday is a move to “streamline” the staff and “some positions throughout the direct-run network to right-size the organization based on our means.”

“We see this transition as moving the ASD from the start-up phase to a new stage that will ensure long-term sustainability,” McQueen said in a written statement Thursday. “We want to focus in on strong academic work throughout the network and build on the success of those schools who have been in the district the longest, and this re-organization will help us to do that.”

McQueen had indicated early on in her tenure that the state would take a more active role in its oversight of the ASD than it did when Chris Barbic was appointed the first superintendent by Gov. Bill Haslam in 2012.

McQueen has said concerns and even some vocal opposition expressed by parents about the suddenness of the takeovers by the ASD are valid.

The opposition intensified after a Vanderbilt University study in 2015 commissioned by the state showed I-Zone students were outperforming ASD students in a preliminary look at student achievement and growth.

“What people are feeling is real,” McQueen said of the opposition during a visit in February to Cornerstone Prep, an ASD charter in Binghampton. “We know anything that would look like a state takeover is a problem because people perceive that we are trying to pull something out of their community when in reality we are wanting to build capacity for that community. If it’s sensed as something different, then we’ve got to work together to change that.”

The state education department took control of the ASD’s financial and federal processes in August following a performance audit by Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson that was critical of the school district’s financial controls.

The financial functions and oversight of federal programs used by the ASD were moved out of Memphis to Nashville with six new hires in the move.

Frayser Community Schools, the Memphis-based charter organization that operates Martin Luther King Jr. College Preparatory School in Frayser for the ASD, will expand its reach to operate Humes Preparatory Academy in North Memphis in the 2017-2018 school year.

That’s after Gestalt Community Schools announced in October it would pull out of its operation of Humes and Klondike Preparatory Academy, also in North Memphis, at the end of the current school year.

Gestalt cited low attendance at both of the ASD schools. It has operated Humes for the ASD since 2012 with Klondike being added the next school year. Frayser Community Schools applied to take on Humes. No charter operator applied to take on Klondike which will close when the school year ends later this month.

Gestalt continues to operate the Power Center Academy charter schools in Hickory Hill independent of the ASD.

KIPP Memphis Collegiate Schools announced in December it will close its ASD middle school in the old White’s Chapel Elementary School building this month as well.

The KIPP school wasn’t a takeover of an existing SCS school but a “new start” school.

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