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VOL. 132 | NO. 178 | Thursday, September 7, 2017

Anderson Leaving as ASD Superintendent

By Bill Dries

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Malika Anderson is stepping down as superintendent of the state-run Achievement School District effective at the end of September after being with the turnaround school district for the state’s lowest-performing schools since its inception in 2012 and as superintendent since January 2016.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced Wednesday, Sept. 6, Anderson’s resignation. Tennessee Education deputy commissioner and chief operations officer Kathleen Airhart will be interim superintendent. Airhart is a former superintendent of Putnam County, Tennessee, schools and was named Tennessee Superintendent of the Year in 2011.

The ASD is a school district for the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state in terms of student achievement. All but two of the 32 schools in the statewide district are in Memphis with most but not all of them run by charter operators under contract with the Achievement School District.

Anderson’s resignation comes at a time of change for the role of the turnaround school district, particularly its ability to take over failing schools unilaterally.

That has changed with new federal Every Student Succeeds Act – ESSA – rules that give a local school district the first chance at a turnaround model in a failing school new to the bottom five percent list. Only after that effort can a state consider a takeover.

McQueen also said the goal in picking a permanent successor to Anderson is to build on the ASD’s work over the last five school years. The effort is currently in its sixth school year, which has seen the rise of Innovation Zone turnaround schools locally.

Those are turnaround school efforts run by local school districts without the use of charters but with the extra state funding the ASD also receives for its efforts.

“This transition in no way disrupts our work,” McQueen said of Anderson’s departure. “We are taking what we have learned about school improvement over the past five years and using that knowledge to maximize students’ success by putting in place a strong set of evidence-based options that will drive improvements in students’ performance.”

Anderson said the work has been “some of the most challenging and fulfilling work one can undertake in the field of education.”

“Although I will transition out of my role as superintendent of the ASD, I will forever champion our continuing work, love and high expectations for every child the ASD is blessed to serve,” she added in a written statement.

Early and preliminary comparisons of student achievement in I-Zone and ASD schools by the Tennessee Education Research Alliance at Vanderbilt University in Nashville showed I-Zone students outperforming ASD students.

Those results fueled opposition to the ASD’s expansion, particularly with charter operators, beyond the first and second school years. McQueen defended the ASD’s role but also said it needed to work harder to be more inclusive of school communities and answer concerns of parents.

Shelby County Schools leaders also became more aggressive in a relationship with the ASD that has always been part cooperation and part competition.

SCS superintendent Dorsey Hopson in the 2016-2017 school year expanded Raleigh Egypt High School to include middle school grades after the ASD took over the nearby Raleigh Egypt Middle School. And Hopson questioned and opposed the expansion of some ASD schools to add grades not included in the original school with the state saying the ASD had to have SCS permission to do so.

Gestalt Community Schools pulled out of ASD schools at Klondike Elementary and Humes Middle School in north Memphis at the end of the 2016-2017 school year citing low enrollment. The ASD found a charter operator for Humes but closed Klondike when it could find no charter operator for that school.

A new Vanderbilt study released in February found the teacher turnover rate for ASD schools averaged 63 percent over its first three school years compared to a 37 percent turnover rate for I-Zone schools. Both schools have models that include faculty members reapplying for their jobs at the outset of a schools conversion to the turnaround models.

In May, the ASD laid off 29 employees with the state citing the impact of ESSA changes as the reason.

McQueen, in announcing Anderson’s resignation, said there is still a place for the ASD in the state’s plan for turning around its lowest performing or “priority” schools.

“The ASD remains critical to our work as a state to improve students’ performance, especially in our Priority schools,” she said in a written statement. “And this is an ideal time to transition to a new leader of the district as we move into a new phase with the implementation of our ESSA plan.”

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