Tennessee

Exclusive: Green Dot Public Schools pulls out of Raleigh-Egypt ASD takeover

Green Dot Public Schools, a nationally-known charter school network, has backed out of an agreement with Tennessee’s Achievement School District to take over Memphis’ academically-troubled Raleigh-Egypt High School next year, Chalkbeat learned Thursday.

The decision follows a month of raucous protests from students, parents, and teachers, and strong pushback from the city’s superintendent, who said the intervention was unnecessary and disruptive.

Green Dot officials said Thursday that a lack of community buy-in would hurt the success at the school, where just one of the school’s 748 students passed the English End of Course exam last year.

“We don’t want to create a hostile environment where kids are in the middle of this,” said Megan Quaile, the executive director of Tennessee’ s Green Dot Public Schools.  “They’ve asked us to give them some time and we’re going to honor their request.”

State law allows the ASD to take over Tennessee’s worst-performing schools and directly run them or hand them over to charter schools.

Green Dot is the third operator this fall to pull out of an agreement with the ASD to take over struggling Memphis schools. Two other networks  – KIPP and Freedom Prep–pulled out of the process last month, citing concerns about their own capacity to take on more schools.

Today’s development delivers another blow to the ASD’s “matching” process. Under that process, the ASD coordinates get-to-know-you meetings and informational events between charter schools and some of the lowest performing schools in the state to help the ASD and a board of community members decide how and whether to intervene in particular schools.

Shelby County Schools board members, parents, and teachers have described the matching process as confusing, demoralizing and destructive to schools. They have also pointed out that while some schools’ test scores improved after state intervention, others have dipped, leading some board members and politicians to call for a moratorium on the ASD’s expansion.

The ASD has said the matching process is meant to build community buy-in to help schools reach the ASD’s  stated goal of taking the bottom 5 percent of schools and catapulting them into the state’s top 25 percent of schools in five years. This year’s blips have caused district officials concern but they still plan to move forward with the matching process.

“The expectation was that everybody was ready to move forward,” ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic said Thursday.  “If we felt like they weren’t ready, then we wouldn’t have had them involved in this process.  We’re never going to force an operator to do something that they don’t want to do.”

“We’re going to go back and do an autopsy once we’re done with all this,” Barbic said. “What are some things we can do to minimize this from happening again. We want kids in priority schools to have the best shot possible at a good education.”

Just six of the 12 Memphis schools named by the ASD last month as takeover candidates are still in the takeover mix. And Green Dot still plans to take over Wooddale Middle School.  The ASD currently runs 22 schools.

When the ASD announced last month that it would take over Raleigh-Egypt High School, a sports powerhouse situated in a blue-collar neighborhood in North Memphis, politicians, board members, alumni, and community activists objected. They expressed hope that the school’s new principal, plucked from Bolton High School, would turn the school around without ASD intervention.

Raleigh Egypt principal James "Bo" Griffin shows off Raleigh-Egypt High School.
PHOTO: Daarel Burnette II
Raleigh Egypt principal James “Bo” Griffin shows off Raleigh-Egypt High School.

Principal James “Bo” Griffin publicly promoted his efforts to sweep the hallways of fights, expel the school’s trouble makers and develop a three-year academic plan with Raleigh-Egypt Middle School and Egypt Elementary that included tutoring and professional development. Egypt Elementary made some of the largest academic gains in the state this year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said at a board meeting last month that he specifically asked the ASD not to take over Raleigh-Egypt High School because of the “synergy” between the high school middle school and elementary school campus.

But the ASD said Raleigh-Egypt was the only high school in the state to fall into a stringent set of takeover criteria agreed upon with Shelby County Schools.

Some schools on this year’s ASD list were only provisionally tabbed for takeover. But Raleigh-Egypt was a “direct placement” school, meaning the ASD had definitively decided to turn over the school to  Green Dot, a charter management organization that has gained national attention for turning around several tough high schools in its home state of California.

Being taken over by the ASD would interrupt the sorts of gains the school has made this year, principal Griffin said.

“I don’t really understand it as a first-year principal,” Griffin said about the takeover process. “I know the governor believes in it but I still believe it’s the people, not the programs that make a difference in schools. If there were one program, we’d all be doing it.”

Griffin also took issue with Green Dot being an out-of-state charter network, saying its staff wouldn’t understand the particular challenges of the Raleigh neighborhood, including gang violence and intense poverty.

Last year, Green Dot took over Memphis’ Fairley High School and immediately set up a task force made up of parents, teachers and community members to make decisions at the school about budget and extra-curricular activities. Despite its costs, Green Dot Schools officials retained the school’s famous high-stepping marching band and added some sports programs back that had been dormant for several years.

That sort of community buy-in is crucial to getting students to show up to school and engaged in the classroom, ultimately boosting test scores, Green Dot’s Quaile said.

Raleigh-Egypt High School's test scores are among some of the lowest in the state.
Raleigh-Egypt High School’s test scores are among some of the lowest in the state.

But after meeting with several parents and staff members at Raleigh-Egypt High School, Quaile decided she’d have a much harder time creating that sort of culture there.

ASD officials said Thursday they plan to meet with Hopson in the coming weeks to formulate a smoother takeover process, in which community members are better informed about upcoming decisions, and charter schools aren’t pulling out.

Principal Griffin said he plans to have a faculty meeting Thursday afternoon to let teachers know about the decision and prepare for a Thanksgiving day food drive for students Friday. The local Krogers has donated 750 baskets of food Raleigh-Egypt families.

“I think this is an opportunity to know where we’re at now but not knowing where we’re going to be next year, this should be fuel for us to work even harder to hit our numbers,” Griffin said.

In a draft of a letter addressed to community members and obtained by Chalkbeat, Malika Anderson, the district’s chief portfolio officer, said the school could potentially be placed in the Shelby County’s iZone, a district-led effort similar to the ASD’s, where staff are also required to reapply to their jobs.

“If Raleigh-Egypt doesn’t make significant progress this year, it will be eligible to match with Green Dot…in the 2016-17 school year,” Anderson said.

The ASD is expected to announce its decisions for the remaining schools on the takeover list on Dec. 12.

 For more information on the takeover process, visit our interactive page here.

Contact Daarel Burnette II at [email protected] or 901-260-3705.

Follow us on Twitter: @Daarel@chalkbeattn.

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defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.