Charter vote

Crosstown High among five more charters approved for Memphis, while Green Dot among rejected charters planning appeals

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Brad Leon, chief of strategy and performance management for Shelby County Schools, confers in 2016 with the district's charter overseers including Stacey Thompson and Charisse Sales. Leon will continue to supervise the office now headed by Daphnè Robinson.

A school board vote in Memphis to grow the city’s charter sector by another five schools in 2017 also set the stage for a battle as several other operators vowed to appeal to the state after their applications were denied Tuesday night.

Following recommendations from administrators for Shelby County Schools, the school board approved a charter for Crosstown High School, the high-profile project planned for Midtown Memphis in partnership with Christian Brothers University. Also approved were applications from Gateway University Schools of Applied Sciences Inc., Legacy Leadership Academy, Kaleidoscope Schools and Artesian Schools.

The board voted unanimously to deny applications from Green Dot Public Schools, Pathways in Education, and The LeFlore Foundation.

Leaders from Green Dot and LeFlore said later that they’ll appeal the board’s decision to the State Board of Education, while a spokeswoman for Pathways in Education said the operator will consider an appeal. Under state law, the denied operators have 10 days to file.

If they do, it will be the second time this year that charter operators in Memphis have taken their cases to the State Board for decisions made by Shelby County’s school board. In May, the State Board upheld the local board’s decision to close four Memphis charter schools this year, even as members rapped the Memphis district for its handling of the closures.

Under Tuesday’s school board vote, Shelby County Schools’ charter sector will grow to 52 schools — about one-fourth of all the district’s schools in Memphis. The board already approved two charter applications from the Memphis Business Academy in June.

The growth is necessary, according to Brad Leon, the district’s strategy and innovation chief, who has said the district needs to authorize high-quality options and close low-quality ones to drive up the quality of public education in Memphis.

Megan Quaile, executive director of Green Dot Public Schools Tennessee, and national CEO Marco Petruzzi listen to school board members.
PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Megan Quaile, executive director of Green Dot Public Schools Tennessee, and national CEO Marco Petruzzi listen to school board members.

During public comments before the board’s vote, Green Dot CEO Marco Petruzzi said the recommendation to deny its application — which was based on a low growth score from Green Dot’s Fairley High School in Memphis — was “unfounded.” He said Fairley’s test scores have outpaced those of some schools in Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone.

“We have 16 years of running high-performing charter schools,” said Petruzzi of the California-based operator. “It seems to me that there’s a different standard being used for Green Dot than the standards for iZone schools.”

Artesian Schools barely scraped by on a 5-4 vote after board member Stephanie Love asked that its application be considered separately. The other recommended charter schools were approved in a single vote, with only Love and Shante Avant voting against them.

Love cited concern about the proposed location in her district of Artesian Schools, which is partnering with Southwest Tennessee Community College in the Raleigh-Frayser community. She said the school could draw students away from two other schools, one operated by Shelby County Schools and the other by the state-run Achievement School District. She also had reservations about Artesian as an “early college” high school.

“We’re constantly hearing (that) our children are not prepared for college,” Love said. “I’m not saying our children aren’t smart, but based on standards set by the state of Tennessee, our children aren’t where they need to be.”

Ashley Smith, CEO and founder of Artesian Schools, said after the meeting that the high school will not be a neighborhood school and that she hopes it will draw students from across the city.

“We’re not trying to compete with the other high schools in the area,” Smith said.

First Person

A Queens teacher on Charlottesville: ‘It can’t just be teachers of color’ offering lessons on race

PHOTO: Bob Mical/Creative Commons

In a few short weeks, school will resume in New York and I’m already thinking about how we are going to address racism within the four walls of my classroom. I’m thinking about what texts, historical and current, we can read and films and documentaries we can watch to support dialogue, questioning, and solutions for combatting that ugly, pervasive thread in the fabric of our country’s patchwork quilt called racism.

Last year we read “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” a former slave turned abolitionist, and juxtaposed its reading with a viewing of Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th,” which discusses modern-day slavery in the guise of mass incarceration. Students asked questions of the documentary as they watched it and discussed those queries within their groups and with the class at large afterwards.

We do our children and ourselves a disservice when we don’t have these difficult conversations as a part of our collective curriculums. However, many teachers from various walks of life are neither well-versed nor fully comfortable discussing race on any level with their students. Not talking about racism won’t make it go away. If anything, not talking about racism in the classroom further perpetuates racist ideologies that are, at their root, born out of ignorance. Education’s goal is to dispel ignorance and replace it with truth.

With that being said, just how many teachers feel equipped to facilitate lessons that touch heavily upon race in the classroom? Not nearly enough.

According to Teaching Tolerance, “The dialogue about race should start in the classroom — the teacher-prep classroom, that is. Preservice teachers should be exploring multiculturalism and discussing ways to honor diversity in their future classrooms.”

But often, Hilton Kelly, a professor of education at Davidson College in North Carolina told the site, the coursework isn’t giving future teachers the training they need to talk about race. “Even when future teachers take courses on diversity and multiculturalism,” Kelly said, “those courses don’t take the critical approach to race that future teachers truly need.”

“Food, folklore and festivals are not the same as an analysis of race in America,” Kelly argued.

But an analysis of race in America is exactly what needs to happen. Furthermore, it can’t just be teachers of color solely facilitating such lessons in their classrooms.

I don’t want to write about the events going on in Virginia. I don’t want to think about it. I’m so tired of the hatred and I long for peace, but I can’t very well in good conscience remain silent. That would be akin to protesting with those hate-mongers in Virginia last weekend. I can’t just write about back-to-school shopping, lesson planning, and business-as-usual while my brothers and sisters in Virginia are being murdered in cold blood by white supremacist American Nazis.

Are the children of Virginia safe? Are our children anywhere safe? What can I do to make a difference within the hearts and minds of the children whom I teach? If education is our best vehicle for bringing about change — which it is— how am I going to infuse the lessons I teach with critical thinking and analysis about racism in the United States for the seventh-graders entrusted in my care? How are other educators planning to address these events with their students at every grade-level?

I pose these questions to all who are reading. Whether you are a teacher, a student, a parent, an administrator, or a community member, I plead with you to work together to create answers that work toward healthy conversations and hands-on action in the fight against racism.

Vivett Dukes is a teacher at Eagle Academy For Young Men in Queens. A version of this post first appeared on New York School Talk

Consolation prize

Crosstown High wins $2.5 million to help reinvent high school in Memphis

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Newly named leaders Chandra Sledge Mathias and Chris Terrill are working to launch Crosstown High School, a charter school that will open in the fall of 2018 in midtown Memphis.

A charter school opening next year in midtown Memphis has been awarded a $2.5 million grant through a national contest aimed at reinventing America’s high schools.

Leaders of Crosstown High announced Wednesday that it’s receiving the money over five years from the XQ Super School Challenge, an initiative backed by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

The upcoming school garnered national attention last year as a finalist for one of five $10 million XQ awards. Although Crosstown didn’t win, its leaders say the new award will help keep the school on the map of America’s “schools of the future.” (Crosstown is among 18 schools being featured on a live national broadcast on network television on Sept. 8.)

“This hasn’t been attempted in Memphis,” said Chris Terrill, executive director of Crosstown High, about creating a high school of tomorrow from scratch. “There’s energy nationwide for education reform, and we get to be a part of that.”

The new Memphis school will look different from a traditional high school. No classrooms arranged with rows of desks. No high-stakes tests. No failing grades. It will join a growing group of other U.S. schools grounded in mastery-based learning, which emphasizes student-led projects over teacher lectures.

Authorized last year by Shelby County Schools, Crosstown High will open in 2018 with 125 ninth-grade students, eventually growing to 500 across four grades. The students will be chosen through a random lottery that opens in September.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Crosstown Concourse has room for more than just the 500-student high school.

The school will be housed on several floors at Crosstown Concourse, a redeveloped high-rise building that once was a Sears warehouse. The building opened this spring as an urban village and already is home to several nonprofit organizations, community health initiatives and creative arts groups, with whom the school is seeking to leverage partnerships.

“Inside the concourse, there are thousands of different job titles,” said Terrill, whose family has moved into an apartment in the complex. “We’ll be able to listen to what students are interested in and then pair them with places that match those interests.”

Terrill arrived at Crosstown this summer from Mooresville, N.C., where he was head of a charter school. He’s being joined by another charter leader from Warrenton, N.C., Chandra Sledge Mathias, who will serve as Crosstown’s first principal.

Much of the $2.5 million award will go toward professional development, says Sledge Mathias.

“We have lofty ideas, but making it happen in real life is what we need to make happen,” she said. “That starts with teachers who understand what we’re trying to do here, which is going to be very different than the classrooms they’re coming from.”

The school invites the community to stop by Crosstown Concourse on Thursday for a block party celebration featuring the XQ Super School Bus, which visited Memphis last summer as part of the national competition. The event will be an opportunity for Memphians to weigh in on what they want to see at Crosstown High, said Ginger Spickler, the school’s director of strategic partnerships and projects.

“Being a super school means questioning everything,” Spickler said. “We have a mandate to try to do things differently. We want community input as we continue to figure out what different looks like.”