A national charter network announced Tuesday that it’s scaling back its work with Tennessee’s school turnaround district.
KIPP will exit Memphis University Middle School next June due to under-enrollment and its remote location, according to a statement from the network.
The board for KIPP Memphis Collegiate Schools voted 6-1 on Monday in favor of the pullout, with one parent representative voting against the change.
The national network has had a presence in Memphis since 2008 and will continue to operate its seven other schools in the city: three under the state’s Achievement School District and four others under Shelby County Schools.
KIPP becomes the second ASD operator to announce plans to exit a school under Tennessee’s ASD. Leaders of Memphis-based Gestalt Community Schools announced in October that its board had voted to vacate its two ASD schools in North Memphis. They also cited low enrollment, a challenge that Memphis school leaders have struggled with long before the ASD came on the scene in 2012.
The pullouts show the challenges inherent in the ASD’s structure, which operates schools in high-poverty areas, often with a dwindling school-age population. The state-run district relies on charter networks that are mostly bound to enrolling students under the same neighborhood zoning restrictions as local school districts. That’s different from the national charter school scene, where operators are able to enroll students from anywhere in a city.
As of November, KIPP’s University Middle had an enrollment of 148 students, up from 83 students during its first year of operation but not enough of an increase to sustain the school, according to network leaders.
“Due in large part to its remote location in Southwest Memphis, KIPP Memphis University Middle has been under enrolled since it opened in the summer of 2014,” KIPP leaders said in a statement. “Because of this historic low student enrollment, the board determined the school was not financially viable on public dollars in the long run.”
Despite the pullouts, other ASD charter operators told Chalkbeat in recent weeks that they are committed to continuing their turnaround work under the ASD. Several even hope to expand under the state-run district.
KIPP University Middle is atypical of most of the ASD’s schools. As a new start, the school operated under laxer enrollment restrictions than for the ASD’s takeover schools, which comprise the vast majority of the ASD’s portfolio of 33 schools in Memphis and Nashville. However, it’s still restricted to enrolling students from zones with schools in the state’s bottom 5 percent academically.
Located in South Memphis near the Mississippi River, KIPP University Middle operates in a former school building owned by Shelby County Schools. When that school was shuttered in 2013, its enrollment of 181 students was more than the current enrollment under KIPP.
University Middle is one of only two ASD schools that are not considered a state “priority school,” which are schools that are academically in the state’s bottom 5 percent. The ASD’s goal — and mandate from the state — is to lift all of its schools out of the bottom 5 percent.
KIPP officials stressed Tuesday that they hope students at University Middle choose to stay in the KIPP network and that they will provide transportation to other KIPP schools. KIPP Memphis Preparatory Middle, another ASD school, is located about nine miles away, while KIPP Memphis Collegiate High School, a charter school authorized by Shelby County Schools, is 17 miles away.
Reporter Laura Faith Kebede contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the national KIPP network is based in California. KIPP originated in Texas.