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VOL. 133 | NO. 163 | Friday, August 17, 2018

Compass Schools Conversion Pared From 9 Jubilee Schools to 6

By Bill Dries

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The Shelby County Schools Board will consider adding nine new charter schools to the system in 2019-2020, including six Catholic Jubilee schools slated to become Compass Community Schools.

Compass originally planned to take over nine of the Jubilee schools in the Memphis Catholic Diocese system, but has pared that back to six. The SCS board meets in special session Wednesday, Aug. 22, so it can hit a state deadline on what is a second round of charter applications.

The board earlier rejected a total of 18 applications based on staff recommendations that looked at specific criteria in charter school operations.

Six charter schools to convert what are now Catholic Jubilee schools got a greenlight Thursday from Shelby County Schools staff with a school board vote to come next week. (Daily News File Photo)

Fourteen of those 18 rejected applications were resubmitted, including six by Compass.

Compass would be the largest charter operator in the school system if the board approves its six schools to be located in Binghampton, Berclair, Frayser, Hickory Hill, Orange Mound and Midtown. The Midtown school would be a high school, probably at the existing Memphis Catholic High School.

The paring down of the Compass applications means some of the Jubilee school buildings may not reopen and their student bodies could be consolidated.

The Compass schools would be secular, governed by a local board through New Day Schools Inc.

SCS chief of strategy and performance management Brad Leon said Thursday, Aug. 16, New Day Schools answered initial doubts about the financial support needed to take on that many schools with letters from financial backers.

Charter operators who fail in their initial applications are given feedback by the school system about where their applications were found lacking.

“In our initial feedback, we asked for specific letters of support around philanthropic investment because they were claiming that in the first round,” Leon said. “We’re confident that they are going to have, beyond public dollars, philanthropic support to finance their operations.”

The other charter applications recommended for approval for the next school year are:

• Freedom Prep Academy Sherwood Forest, a second Freedom Prep Charter school

• Aster College Prep in the Sherwood Forest/Orange Mound Area

• Memphis Merit Academy in Parkway Village.

SCS staff recommended against three applications because of the record of those charter operators in running other schools within SCS and the state-run Achievement School District.

They are Aspire Coleman Middle School in Raleigh; Cornerstone Prep Middle School, which had no location in its proposal; and a Green Dot K-8 charter in southwest Memphis.

Also recommended for denial because of unaddressed concerns in their applications are Blueprint Avodah, a new charter operator proposing a school in South Memphis, and Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering Elementary School, proposed for Downtown.

MASE got credit for growth in student achievement at its 6-12 school in Midtown, the first charter school in the state as well as in Memphis.

“We’re really pleased with the track that MASE is on,” Leon said “But we thought it needed to have stronger performance before opening another school.”

He said MASE’s application for an elementary school didn’t meet the criteria in any of the sections.

The SCS staff evaluating the charter applications don’t make recommendations about the proposed locations for the charters, which are dependent on the operators finding space to lease or buy.

But the school board and superintendent Dorsey Hopson have expressed concerns about charters  and other schools reaching a saturation point, particularly in Hickory Hill.

“That is a consideration that we have steadfastly left to the board,” Leon said. “The superintendent’s charge is to look at the merits of the application, and if the board believes there is saturation, they can certainly deny on those grounds.”

Hopson, meanwhile, reacted to the release of student achievement data Thursday by the Tennessee Department of Education that measures student growth by TNReady achievement tests.

The school district as a whole was rated at a Level 2 in measuring growth by students. A Level 3 is the midway mark in the 5-Level system. Level 3 indicates students are getting a school year’s worth of growth in the classroom. Level 5 is the highest level of growth of more than a school year.

Hopson said the grades 3-8 composite numbers by themselves were around a Level 5, with high school student growth pulling the system’s overall level down to a 2.

“We’ve known now, I think for the last couple of years with the standards changes, that the instruction in high schools and some of the materials that we’re using in high schools just need to dramatically improve,” Hopson said. “I think some of the strategies that we’ve used particularly focusing on early learning is starting to bear fruit now. We know we have a big literacy issue particularly at the high school level so we did some things this year in terms of investing in reading specialists and specific reading strategies.”

Hopson cited 16 SCS schools, many in the Innovation Zone and Whitehaven Empowerment Zone, which went from Level 1 growth in the 2016-2017 school year to Level 5 growth last year.

He also noted that most of the problems in the previous school year with TNReady test administration involved the online end of course exams taken by high school students. But he downplayed the impact.

“There is an impact on those kids that we may never know. It’s an imperfect measure, but it’s the measure we have now,” he said. “We’ve learned over the last few years we have to be flexible in our approach.”

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