next steps

Crosstown High set to open as a Memphis charter school, unless it doesn’t

PHOTO: Micaela Watts
Michelle McKissack, a board member of Crosstown High School Inc., speaks in May with supporters of the proposed new high school for midtown Memphis.

With a charter now in their hip pocket, backers of Crosstown High School are assured of a path toward creating a new kind of high school in Memphis. But that doesn’t mean they’ll choose the charter option.

Leaders have said all along that they’d prefer governance under a contract model, and that hasn’t changed.

“We’re still keeping all options open and will pursue the model that will allow us to recruit the a diverse student body and open our doors as expeditiously as possible,” spokesman Kerry Hayes said on Wednesday. “That said, we are obviously very grateful that (Shelby County Schools) has granted our charter and shares our overall vision for our school.”

The school board approved Crosstown’s application Tuesday night on a 7-2 vote, clearing the way for the school to open in August of 2018 with 125 ninth-graders. This is a change for the future charter in the city’s midtown area, which originally planned to open in fall of 2017 with a 500-student body. Supporters say Crosstown will be a diverse college prep school that should help Shelby County Schools recapture middle-class families who have fled the district over the years.

“Approval of our charter application allows us to move forward with hiring leaders and faculty for our school, beginning construction, and executing a plan to recruit a diverse student body and staff,” said John Smarrelli, chairman of Crosstown’s board of directors and president of Christian Brothers University, a partner in the project.

A contract model, similar to Campus Elementary School operated by the district in partnership with the University of Memphis, would give Crosstown more control over student enrollment. That track would also have to be approved by Shelby County’s school board, which has been lukewarm about the idea thus far.

Both options would be publicly funded and could have an independent board. (Read our coverage of Crosstown’s charter versus contract option here).

The differences:

  • A contract school would give its board more control over student enrollment.
  • A charter school must be open to all students. Charters typically use a lottery system for admissions.

Crosstown High has been a high-profile idea since its inception in 2015. It’s among 50 finalists for one of at least five $10 million prizes from a national contest backed by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, to reimagine what U.S. high schools could be. Winners are expected to be announced publicly on Sept. 14.

The school is to be housed in Crosstown Concourse, a high-rise building being redeveloped in a former Sears warehouse built in the 1920s. Crosstown would occupy the fourth and fifth floors, and other building tenants would be mostly from educational, healthcare and retail sectors.

Update, Sept. 7, 2016: Crosstown board members announced that the school is no longer planned to open fall of 2017 as a 500-student charter. The new plan is for Crosstown to open a year later, in August of 2018, with 125 ninth-graders. It will eventually grow to capacity at 500 students.

Correction, Aug. 25, 2016: This story has been corrected to show that the school board voted 7-2 to approve Crosstown’s application. A previous version incorrectly stated that the vote was unanimous.

calendar quandary

Detroit district and union hammer out last-second agreement on school calendar before vote at tonight’s board meeting

A screenshot of the proposed academic calendar that has caused concern among union officials.

Detroit’s main school district and its largest teachers union settled a contract disagreement Tuesday afternoon after tensions arose over the seemingly routine approval of this year’s academic calendar.

The proposed calendar includes some changes to the one spelled out in the teachers’ contract. It was approved last week by a school board subcommittee without comment from the union, and the same calendar was on the agenda for tonight’s meeting of the full school board.

With just three weeks until the first day of school, parents and teachers are relying on the calendar to make travel plans and childcare arrangements.

No details were available about the agreement.

Ken Coleman, a spokesman for the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said the agreement was resolved before the meeting started, but couldn’t provide further details. District spokeswoman Chrystal Wilson said she expected the calendar to go to a vote without opposition from the union.

Coleman said earlier on Tuesday that a vote to approve the calendar could violate the teachers’ contract.

Union leaders were surprised last week when Chalkbeat reported that the board was considering a calendar that was different from the one approved in their contract.

The proposed calendar would eliminate one-hour-early releases on Wednesday and move the teacher training that occurred during that time mostly to the beginning of the school year. It also would move spring break to April 1-5, 2019 — a few weeks earlier than the April 19-26 break specified in the contract.

The earlier spring break is designed to avoid the testing window for the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, a college entrance exam commonly known as the PSAT, according to school board documents.

Union officials have said that they had no major objections to the contents of the calendar, only to the way in which it was approved.

Correction: Aug. 14, 2018 This story has been corrected to show that the union and district have reached an agreement about the academic calendar.  A previous version of the story, under the headline “An 11th-hour disagreement over an academic calendar could be settled at tonight’s school board meeting,” referenced a pending agreement when an agreement had in fact been reached.


New data show how few black and Hispanic students benefit from New York City’s specialized high school diversity program

Students take an AP exam at Bronx Science, one of the city's specialized high schools.

A program intended to diversify the city’s elite specialized high schools continues to help far more white and Asian students than black and Hispanic ones, according to new data released Tuesday.

The initiative, known as the Discovery program, aims to promote diversity at the eight elite high schools by offering admission to students from high-need families who score just below the entrance exam cutoff if they successfully complete summer coursework.

This year, Asian students represented 64 percent of students admitted through Discovery, (despite being 16 percent of the city’s students), while black and Hispanic students combined make up just 22 percent (a group that represents nearly 70 percent of the city’s students). Last year, 67 percent of students admitted through Discovery were Asian and 18-20 percent were black or Hispanic.

And while black and Hispanic students get more offers through Discovery than they do in the typical admissions process — where just 10.4 percent of offers went to black and Hispanic students this year — the program does not make a big difference because such a small share students actually get admitted through Discovery. This year, 6 percent of ninth graders were admitted through the program.

Discovery has expanded under Mayor Bill de Blasio, from 58 students in 2014 to an expected 250 this coming school year. But despite the program’s growth, it has had little effect on making the city’s elite high schools more racially representative of the city’s overall student population.

The preliminary numbers released Tuesday help show why the city is changing the program.

After years of these meager results, the city is expanding the program even further and tweaking its rules to include more black and Hispanic students — a key pillar of de Blasio’s controversial plan to make the schools more racially representative of the city’s students.

Read more: Fair and objective or useless and biased? A Chalkbeat guide to the case for and against New York City’s specialized high school test

By 2020, each of the specialized schools that determine admission based solely on a single exam will be required to reserve 20 percent of their seats for students in the Discovery program. (Stuyvesant High School, which is participating in the program for the first time this year, admitted 23 students through Discovery. Under the mayor’s plan, the school will have to increase that number sevenfold.)

To ensure it helps more black and Hispanic students than it does right now, the program will be restricted to students at high-poverty schools, which tend to enroll more black and Hispanic students. (Currently, the program is only restricted to high-need students from any middle school in the city.)

By itself, that change is expected to have only a modest effect, increasing black and Hispanic student enrollment to 16 percent, up from about 9 percent today. But unlike the mayor’s plan to get rid of the entrance exam entirely, which would have a more dramatic effect on diversifying the schools, expanding the Discovery program is something de Blasio can do without approval from the state legislature.

“By changing the Discovery eligibility criteria starting next year, we’ll support greater geographic, racial, and socioeconomic diversity at our specialized high schools,” education department spokesman Will Mantell wrote in an email.