Charter Schools

Two charter operators are interested in running Gestalt’s ASD schools in Memphis

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Students leave Klondike Preparatory Academy Elementary in December. The state-run charter school in North Memphis will close this month at the end of the school year.

As Gestalt Community Schools prepares to exit its two Memphis schools under the state-run Achievement School District, two other ASD charter operators are interested in stepping in.

Leaders for Frayser Community Schools and the ASD’s own Achievement Schools have expressed interest in operating Humes Preparatory Academy Middle and Klondike Preparatory Academy Elementary, both school turnaround projects in North Memphis, beginning next school year.

Gestalt announced this fall its plan to cease management of those schools after the 2016-17 school year. The network’s leaders blamed under-enrollment borne from declining population in North Memphis and exacerbated by the ASD’s state-imposed cap on out-of-zone enrollment.

Of the seven ASD operators eligible to step in, only Frayser Community Schools and Achievement Schools submitted letters of interest, according to a Dec. 2 email to community stakeholders from Bobby White, the ASD’s chief of external affairs.

ASD leaders are asking operators to submit their applications by this Friday, and White emphasized that there’s no guarantee either or both will apply.

The target date means that ASD leaders have pushed back their timetable for reaching a plan on the two schools’ futures. In late October, they told parents they planned to decide the schools’ fate by Dec. 9 in order “to give parents and teachers alike enough time to make informed decisions.” White said more time was needed for potential operators to map out their plans and engage stakeholders. Community meetings with potential operators are now scheduled for January.

“We are in the time period where both operators are engaged in a good amount of due diligence to assess the feasibility of their potential plans,” White said in his email.

While Frayser Community Schools has expressed interest, it’s not clear whether the Memphis-based operator will be eligible based on 2015-16 state standardized test scores at MLK College Preparatory High, its only school. The State Department of Education is expected to release those scores by next week. Eligibility to expand within the ASD is based on whether an operator “meets or exceed expectations” in at least half of its ASD schools in their 2014-15 and/or 2015-16 test score data.

MLK College Prep is located about five miles north of Klondike and Humes. Achievement Schools operates five schools, also located in Memphis’ Frayser community.

The five other ASD operators eligible to apply are Aspire Public Schools, Capstone Education Group, Green Dot Public Schools, KIPP Memphis Public Schools and Promise Academy.

packing up

Charter school in Tennessee’s turnaround district relocating out of neighborhood it signed up to serve

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
The new Memphis Scholars Raleigh-Egypt sign next to faded letters of Shelby County Schools name for the middle school.

When officials at Memphis Scholars Raleigh-Egypt Middle School learned that another school on the same campus could get extra help for its students, they made a big decision: to pick up and move.

Memphis Scholars announced Monday that the school will reopen next year in a building 16 miles away, where the charter operator already runs another school under Tennessee’s turnaround district. The network will pay to bus students from the Raleigh neighborhood across Memphis daily.

The move is the latest and most dramatic episode in an ongoing enrollment war between the state-run Achievement School District and Shelby County Schools in the Raleigh neighborhood.

Most recently, Shelby County Schools proposed adding Raleigh-Egypt Middle/High, which shares a campus with Memphis Scholars now, into the district’s Innovation Zone — a change that would bring new resources and, the district hopes, more students.

The Innovation Zone represents a “high-quality intervention” for students in the neighborhood, according to Memphis Scholars Executive Director Nick Patterson. But he said it makes the presence of his school is less essential.

Shelby County Schools’ proposal “creates two schools, on the same campus, serving the same grades, both implementing expensive school-turnaround initiatives,” Patterson said in a statement. “Memphis Scholars strongly believes that this duplication of interventions is not in the best interest of students and families as it divides scarce resources between two schools.”

The move also allows the network to solve two persistent problems. First, enrollment at Raleigh-Egypt Middle is less than half of what it was supposed to be, putting so much pressure on the school’s budget that the network obtained an energy audit to help it cut costs. That’s because Shelby County Schools expanded the adjacent high school to include middle school grades, in an effort to retain students and funding.

Plus, Memphis Scholars ran into legal obstacles to adding middle school grades to its Florida-Kansas school. Moving an existing middle school to the Memphis Scholars Florida-Kansas Elementary campus circumvents those obstacles. Because state law requires that at least 75 percent of students at Achievement School District schools come from the neighborhood zone or other low-performing schools on the state’s “priority list,” the charter school can welcome any middle schooler in its new neighborhood.

But network officials want to keep serving their existing students, and they’re offering transportation to make that possible.

It’s unclear if Raleigh students will follow the charter school across town. Some parents reached by Chalkbeat on Monday said they hadn’t heard about the changes yet, but their students said they found out today.

“I hadn’t heard about the changes, but I don’t like that too much,” said Reco Barnett, who has two daughters who attend the school. “We’re here because it’s right by where we live. It’s right in our area. I don’t know what we’ll do yet, I just now found out when you told me, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to do that. That’s a long ways away from us.”

The move would free up the building for use by Shelby County Schools. District officials did not provide comment Monday.

Chalkbeat reporter Caroline Bauman contributed to this story.

Notable departure

Last original leader resigns from Tennessee’s school turnaround district

The state-run Achievement School District began taking over schools in Memphis in 2012.

Margo Roen, who has been instrumental in recruiting local and national charter operators to Tennessee’s Achievement School District, has resigned as its deputy superintendent.

PHOTO: Achievement School District
Margo Roen

She said her departure, which is effective June 30, is not related to the State Department of Education’s plans to downsize and restructure the turnaround district by July 1.

“This decision (to leave) is an extremely hard one, and does not in any way diminish the immense belief I have in our schools and kids, and my admiration, appreciation, and respect for the ASD team, operators, and partners in this work,” Roen told Chalkbeat this week in an email.

With Roen’s departure, the ASD will lose its last original leader. She joined the state-run district in 2011 after its creation as part of Tennessee’s First to the Top plan. Superintendent Malika Anderson, who was once deputy to founding superintendent Chris Barbic, joined a few months later, along with Troy Williams, the ASD’s chief operating officer.

In addition to overseeing charter recruitment efforts, Roen has co-led the ASD’s Operator Advisory Council to give charter leaders more say in ASD decisions and collaborate across the district’s 33 schools.

Roen said she will remain in Memphis and plans to work on projects with school districts across the nation.