All in

Frayser Community Schools applies to run ASD school following Gestalt’s exit

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Memphis-based Frayser Community Schools is the only charter operator seeking to run Humes Preparatory Academy Middle next year after Gestalt Community Schools exits Tennessee’s turnaround district this spring.

Three months after one charter network announced plans to leave the state’s Achievement School District, another has formally applied to step in at one of the two schools affected.

Frayser Community Schools submitted its application late Tuesday to operate Humes Preparatory Academy Middle after Gestalt Community Schools exits Tennessee’s turnaround district this spring.

Frayser is the only charter to formally throw its hat in the ring, but ASD officials emphasized on Wednesday that the Memphis-based operator isn’t guaranteed selection. The ASD will host a community meeting at Humes on Jan. 11 to discuss the school’s status.

“The point of having this public meeting is for Frayser to re-introduce itself to the community and display fitness to take on the school,” said Bobby White, the ASD’s chief of external affairs. “We want to be deliberate about who will manage this school, and it’s not in the bag. It’s not a done deal just because no one else is in the competition.”

However, Frayser’s application increases the possibility that Humes could remain open next school year. Of Gestalt’s two ASD schools in North Memphis, Humes has a higher enrollment and is closer to operating at capacity. Underenrollment was cited as the primary reason that Gestalt leaders decided to pull out at the end of the year.

The future looks less bright for Klondike Preparatory Academy Elementary, which could be among the ASD’s first schools to close. No operators, including the state’s own Achievement Schools, have stepped forward to run that school. The ASD will hold a community meeting at Klondike on Jan. 19. White said parents are being updated about a neighboring school to which students could be assigned.

Frayser currently operates only one school, MLK College Preparatory High, also an ASD school in Memphis. It was founded in 2014 by Memphis native Bobby White, who is no relation to the ASD’s Bobby White. A graduate of Frayser High School, White was a 12-year teacher, coach and administrator with Memphis City Schools before the district merged with Shelby County Schools in 2013.

The ASD’s White said leaders for the state-run district hope to determine by the end of January whether Frayser Community Schools will be tapped for Humes. He said the decision will be based on public feedback and how Frayser’s application stacks against a rubric the ASD has created.

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 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.