For two California-based charter networks wanting to open more schools in Memphis, the third try is their final chance.

Green Dot Public Schools and Pathways in Education made last-ditch appeals to the Tennessee State Board of Education Monday for the right to open new high schools. Earlier this summer, Shelby County Schools twice denied charter applications from both networks.

The hearings gave the schools a chance to showcase supporters, including Marlen Martinez, a 12-year-old at Green Dot’s Wooddale Middle School.

“Before I changed to Green Dot, I wasn’t as connected to my teachers,” Martinez said. “Now I feel like my teachers are more responsible. They control classes better. I know they care about me.”

It also gave officials from the Shelby County district a chance to rehash their skepticism about the networks, both of which already operate Memphis schools under the state-run Achievement School District.

“We’re an admirer of Green Dot as a national organization,” said Brad Leon, chief of strategy and innovation for Shelby County Schools. “The central point of our decision was that Green Dot has four schools in this community with one year of data. Before adding a fifth school, they need to establish a stronger track record here. They haven’t proven that they are a high-quality school option in Shelby County yet.”

Schools in both networks have posted low growth scores, suggesting that their students have not improved much from year to year. Green Dot’s Fairley High School, for example, had an overall score of 2 last year on a 5-point scale. Two Pathways campuses had growth scores of 1.

District officials highlighted those scores in back-to-back hearings, while network representatives rebuffed the critiques. Megan Quaile, Green Dot Tennessee’s executive director, argued that Fairley’s test score gains have outpaced those of some schools that Shelby County Schools runs.

The board will continue to receive comments before voting Oct. 14 on whether to uphold the district’s decisions.

This is the second time this year that charter operators in Memphis have appealed to the state over decisions by the local board. In May, the State Board upheld the local board’s decision to close four Memphis charter schools.

The tug of war comes as Shelby County is looking for ways to strengthen its oversight of charter schools.

The charter appeal process illustrated.
PHOTO: State Board of Education
The charter appeal process illustrated.