charter chatter

Here’s who wants to open charter schools in Memphis in 2018

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Memphis has more charter schools than any other Tennessee city, and now 14 groups are vying to add to the growing sector through Shelby County Schools.

This year’s crop of applicants wants to open schools that range from an all-girls program to a sports academy to several focused on science, technology, engineering and math.

All but one operator are locally based, and two are trying again after being turned down last year. Half already run charter schools through the Memphis district.

Charter schools are publicly funded schools with private governance and the autonomy to innovate in an effort to drive up the quality of education. In this year’s invitation to open charter schools in the fall of 2018, the district asked applicants to focus on literacy and college readiness.

The district already oversees 45 charter schools that educate about 12 percent of its students, many of whom are black and live in poverty. Last year, the board approved seven of 13 applicants, while one that was rejected appealed to the state and won.

The Memphis district has been grappling with how to better manage its burgeoning charter sector and has committed to supporting high achievers and closing low performers.

These applicants will learn by the end of August whether they’ll get the green light from Shelby County’s school board:

  • The 100 Black Men of Memphis Inc. wants to add fifth grade to its middle school campus in Raleigh at Memphis Academy of Health Sciences.
  • Believe Memphis Academy, a college preparatory school with a focus on literacy, would serve students in grades 4-8 in the city’s medical district. It would be directed by Danny Song, a fellow at Building Excellent Schools, who has held administrative positions with several charter operators and alternative teacher preparation programs.
  • The Destiny House seeks to open an all-girls Rich ED Academy of Leaders, or REAL, to serve grades 6-9 in downtown, Uptown and Harbor Town with a focus on project-based learning and leadership in government and business. It would be directed by LaShundra Richmond, a pastor at Covenant Church Memphis and lead instructor at HopeWorks with a background in teaching, community organizing and education consulting.
  • Empowerment Academy Inc. wants to open an elementary school with a STEM focus in Hickory Hill and would be led by Brenshevia Baker, now a paralegal at Collierville Law Firm.
  • Frayser Community Schools proposes to open Coretta Scott King Middle School, which would be its third school in Memphis but its first under Shelby County Schools. The Frayser school would have gender-specific classrooms led by Marcus Shead, now assistant principal at the high school operated by Frayser under the state-run Achievement School District.
  • Freedom Preparatory Academy seeks to open Freedom Preparatory Academy Charter School, eventually serving grades 6-12 in the Whitehaven and Nonconnah areas as a college preparatory school under the leadership of Larry Thompson, now dean of STEM academics for the charter operator.
  • Glory Tabernacle Christian Church is a repeat applicant seeking to open “The” Academy All Girls Charter elementary school in midtown or northeast Memphis with an emphasis on literacy. It would be led by Clarice Loggins, now a second-grade teacher at Rozelle Elementary School.
  • Golden Gate Development Corp. seeks to open STAR Academy College Preparatory Middle School as the operator’s second school. It would be based in Raleigh/Frayser with a focus on project-based learning in STEM subjects.
  • Learn4Life seeks to open Flex High School of Tennessee as an alternative school based in North Memphis. It would be the first Tennessee school for the California-based operator. With individualized flexible scheduling, the focus would be on students ages 17 to 19 who have an average reading level at or below sixth grade.
  • The LeFlore Foundation is a repeat applicant seeking to open The Gentleman and Ladies Academy School in Cordova to serve grades K-5 with an emphasis on STEM. The foundation already operates a pre-K and after-school program.
  • Love Fellowship Ministries Inc. seeks to open Pride Academy-School of Professional Development elementary school in Germantown with a focus on financial education and leadership based on the LEAD Program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
  • Perea Elementary School Inc. seeks to open an elementary school that would be fed by its pre-K program housed at Klondike Elementary, which soon will be closed by the Achievement School District. The school would focus on social-emotional learning and include a parenting center.
  • Read Foundation seeks to open three schools: an elementary, middle and high school in Raleigh focused on STEM education. They would become the north campus of Memphis School of Excellence.
  • Supremacy Sports Inc. seeks to open Supremacy Sports Academy in Raleigh to focus on sports management, marketing and medicine for grades 6-8, expanding eventually through grade 12. It would be led by DePaula A. Glover Ross, currently at Methodist Le Bonheur.

Reporter Caroline Bauman contributed to this report.

Correction: April 25, 2017: A previous version of this story misidentified which district has previously authorized schools operated by Frayser Community Schools.

Finding a home

Denver school board permanently co-locates charter elementary in middle school building

Students and staffers at Rocky Mountain Prep's first charter school in Denver cheer in 2012. (Photo by The Denver Post)

A Denver elementary charter school that was temporarily granted space in a shuttering district-run middle school building will now be housed there permanently.

The school board voted Thursday to permanently place Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest charter school in the Kepner Middle School building, where it is sharing space this year with three other school programs. Such co-locations can be controversial but have become more common in a district with skyrocketing real estate prices and ambitious school quality goals.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest is part of a homegrown charter network that has shown promising academic results. The network also has a school in Aurora and is expected to open a third Denver school next year in the northwest part of the city.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest was first placed at Kepner for the 2015-16 school year. The placement was supposed to be temporary. The district had decided the year before to phase out low-performing Kepner and replace it a new district-run middle school, Kepner Beacon, and a new charter middle school, STRIVE Prep Kepner, which is part of a larger network. The district also temporarily placed a third charter school there: Compass Academy.

Compass has since moved out of Kepner but the other four schools remain: Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest, Kepner Beacon, STRIVE Prep Kepner and the Kepner Legacy Middle School, which is on track to be completely phased out and closed by June 2019.

In a written recommendation to the school board, district officials acknowledged that permanently placing Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest at Kepner would create a space crunch.

The Kepner campus has the capacity to serve between 1,100 and 1,500 students, the recommendation says. Once all three schools reach full size, officials expect the schools will enroll a total of approximately 1,250 students. Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest currently serves students in preschool through third grade with a plan to add more grades.

“DPS facilities staff are currently working with all three schools to create a long‐term vision for the campus, including facility improvements that ensure all three schools have what they need to continue to excel,” says the recommendation from Chief Operating Officer David Suppes and Director of Operations and Support Services Liz Mendez.

District staff tried to find an alternate location for Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest but were unsuccessful, the recommendation says. The district does not have many available buildings, and competition for them among district-run and charter schools can be fierce. In northeast Denver, seven secondary schools are currently vying for the use of a shuttered elementary.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis needs tech workers. IPS hopes that George Washington will help fill that gap.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indiana companies are looking for workers with computer expertise, and Indianapolis Public Schools leaders want their students to fill that gap.

Next year, George Washington High School will launch a specialized information technology academy designed to give students the skills to pursue careers in IT — and the exposure to know what jobs even exist.

“Half of what kids aspire to be is either someone they know does it or they’ve seen it on TV,” said Karen Jung, president of Nextech, a nonprofit that works to increase computer science preparation in K-12 schools. Nextech is partnering with IPS to develop the new IT program at George Washington.

For teens who don’t know anyone working in computer science, meeting role models is essential, Jung said. When teens see women of color or artists working in computer sciences, they realize there are opportunities for people like them.

“Once we put them in front of and inside of workplaces … it clicks,” Jung said. They believe “they would belong.”

The IT program is one of three academies that will open in George Washington next year as part of a broad plan to close nearly half of the district’s high schools and add specialized focus areas at the four remaining campuses. In addition to the IT academy, George Washington will have programs in: advanced manufacturing, engineering, and logistics; and business and finance.

The district is also moving to a model without neighborhood high schools. Students will be expected to choose high schools based on focus area rather than location. This year, many current high schoolers were required to reapply in an effort to make sure they enroll in academies that fit their interests.

The district will host a showcase of schools to help parents and students with their selections. The showcase runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana State Museum.

Stan Law, principal of Arlington High School now, will take over George Washington next year. (Arlington will close at the end of this year.) He said the new academies offer an opportunity for students to see what they need to master — from soft skills to knowledge — to get good jobs when they graduate.

“I want kids to really make the connection of the purpose of high school,” Law said. “It is that foundation for the rest of your life, in terms of the quality of life that you are going to live.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Stan Law

When the IT academy launches next year, students who select the program will be able to spend about one to two classes per year focused on information technology, said Ben Carter, who runs career and technical education for IPS.

Carter hopes the academies will reshape George Washington and other IPS campuses by connecting potential careers with the work students do everyday at school. Students who share a focus area will be in a cohort, and they will share many of the same core classes such as English, math and history, said Carter. Teachers, in turn, will be able to relate what students are studying in their history class to projects they are working on in the IT program, for example.

To show students what a career in information technology might look like, students will have the chance to tour, connect with mentors and intern at local companies.

“If I’m in one of these career classes — I’m in software development, but then I get to go to Salesforce and walk through and see the environment, to me as a student, that’s inspiring,” said Carter. “It’s like, ‘oh, this is what I can have.’ ”

He added. “It increases engagement but also gives them a true sense of what the career is.”