Update: This story was updated to reflect the changes to the time and location of the rally. The rally will take place at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Glenview Community Center.
A coalition of teachers organizing against the expansion of the state-run Achievement School District will hold its first public meeting this Wednesday.
The Shelby County Teachers Coalition meeting will take place at Glenview Community Center at 5:30 p.m. and is open to the Memphis community. The coalition bills itself as an effort to inform parents about the process in which the state takes over low-performing schools and hands them over to charter schools or directly runs them.
In a flashy, inflammatory flyer the teachers have been passing around this week, the coalition accuses the Achievement School District of “hijacking our schools,” “stealing public education funds,” “giving their friends our buildings” for “private” charter schools that “select the students that they want to attend their schools.” They also accuse the charter schools of “firing and replacing our teachers.”
The ASD has pointed out that it, too is a governmental organization using public funds in an effort to improve public schools. Only non-profit charter schools can run charter schools in Tennessee. ASD schools cannot under the law select the students that attend its schools. And while teachers in schools that have been taken over by charters do have to reapply to stay at the schools, several of the charter networks guarantee teachers interviews, though not positions.
Coalition leaders also point out that some of the schools’ test scores have dropped since being taken over by the ASD.
“People need to be aware of that,” said one of the coalition’s leaders who didn’t want her name used out of fear of retaliation. “They need to do something with the schools they have first. Then if you’re helping our students, then possibly. But you’re still gobbling up schools. Do something with what you have.”
The ASD has said that it picked schools to take over based on their recent test scores, their feeder patterns and a slew of other factors agreed upon by the district and the Shelby County Schools officials. They also point to increases in some of their schools’ test scores and acknowledge that their model is not perfect.
Teachers formed the coalition earlier this month after two charter organizations pulled out of the matching process because of capacity concerns. Since the start of the matching process, several politicians and community leaders have spoken out against the ASD’s expansion citing the district’s inability to reach its own stated goal of moving the bottom 5 percent schools to the top 25 percent in five years.
This past weekend, the ASD held a fair for parents and teachers to learn more about the matching process and the charter schools involved but only a few dozen people showed up.
Two of those people were the members of the Shelby County Teachers Coalition who placed the flyers advertising this Thursday’s rally under attendees’ windshield wipers. After entering the fair, they were immediately greeted by ASD superintendent Chris Barbic.
“Chris and I we have a friendly relationship in terms of expressing our view points,” one of the members told Chalkbeat later on. “We’re on opposite ends. but he’s open and available. He didn’t tell me nothing we didn’t know. I respect him but he didn’t change my mind. We know what his agenda is: to take over the schools.”