Charter advocates push for tweaks to ASD enrollment eligibility

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat
Students outside a school that's part of the state-run Achievement School District.

Charter school advocates want Tennessee’s legislature to remove restrictions on which students can attend schools run by the state-run Achievement School District.

Schools being run by the ASD, which is tasked with improving the performance of schools ranked in the bottom 5 percent in the state, can currently only enroll students who are zoned to schools that are also eligible for the ASD. Advocates are pushing for a change in the law that would allow students who are not zoned to ASD-eligible schools to attend state-run schools if they choose, according to Greg Thompson, the chief executive officer of the Tennessee Charter School Center

Thompson said that the change would not go against the ASD’s mission to improve the lowest-performing schools in the state. He said that students zoned to the lowest-performing schools would still be prioritized. 

In an email, Thompson wrote:   

Right now, there are ASD charters that are under-enrolled because there are not enough ASD students (i.e. the district schools being converted by charter operators have been under-enrolled pre-charter conversion and it is difficult from a transportation standpoint to draw in kids from around the city that are ASD-zoned).  The result is that a number of ASD charters have openings, but have to turn away families that are close to the school (in many cases, those students may not be ASD-zoned, but are still attending a very low performing school).

This restriction on ASD enrollment is unusual: Most of the schools in the ASD are run by charter management organizations, and most charter schools in the state of Tennessee are able to enroll any student who wishes to apply. Any student in Shelby County Schools can enroll in a charter school authorized by the Shelby County school board, for instance.

ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic told Chalkbeat in December that the requirement that the ASD’s schools remain “neighborhood schools” gave charter operators a shot to disprove allegations that they achieve good results by “creaming” students, or somehow enrolling students who are “easier to educate” than those who remain in regular public schools.

But Thompson said a change in the law would still allow the ASD to create better schools for students in the lowest-performing schools. From Thompson’s email:

The spirit of this is to continue prioritizing ASD zoned students and to ensure every student who is ASD – zoned has a spot in the charter school of his/her choice — but not let seats go unfilled (which is a waste of resources and is denying good education options to families who are zoned to low performing schools (maybe just not zoned to schools low enough to make it in the bottom 5%).

In a profile of the ASD released last spring, Nelson Smith, a senior advisor to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, wrote that the neighborhood-schools requirement “waters down one of the main tenets of chartering, which is that parents should be able to choose any school in the jurisdiction that is right for their child.”

Megan Quaile, who is preparing to open a new Green Dot public charter school in Fairley High School as part of the ASD, said “If you live in Memphis and want to go to the school, I don’t know why we’d not allow you.”

The number of school choice options within Shelby County has been growing in recent years. More than 10 percent of public school students in Shelby County now attend public charter schools rather than public schools run directly by the Shelby County school system.

The ASD is planning to expand the number of schools it runs over the next few years. This shift in enrollment regulations would also allow each individual school to potentially expand its enrollment, if nearby parents were interested in attending. That would likely affect the number of students attending  Shelby County Schools, which is currently planning to close 13 schools in the coming year, including three that are in the process of being taken over by the ASD, due primarily to under-enrollment.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.