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.

Starting young

New York City child care centers are serving more infants, but for poor families seats are scarce

PHOTO: Logan Zabel

Yvette Cora, who works at an East New York day care center, turns down a steady stream of parents asking to enroll their babies.

The center where she works, St. Malachy Child Development Center in East New York, has a contract from New York City to care for babies and toddlers from low-income families. But most won’t get offered a spot until their child is at least 18 months old — it takes six months to a year to get off the baby room waitlist.

“I refer them to home providers, and sometimes after they go visit those homes they come back here and say they prefer it here,” said Cora.

It’s an increasingly common experience for day care providers who work with the city. As interest in early childhood education has grown in the city, more families are seeking spots in day care programs for their babies — but the programs for poor children are actually losing capacity, even as programs that serve more affluent families grow.

With the upcoming transition of the city’s subsidized child care system to the Department of Education (DOE), it remains to be seen how the DOE will prioritize infant care, and whether the agency will find a way to increase the capacity for this age group in centers.

In the past two years, the number of slots for children under 2 years old increased by 10 percent in licensed early education centers citywide — from 9,853 spots in 2015 to 10,806 in 2017, even as total capacity in centers has grown by only 2 percent. That’s according to the Center for New York City Affairs’s analysis of data provided by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which issues licenses to the centers.

At the same time, the child care centers that contract with the city to serve low-income families have been losing their capacity to take in infants and toddlers. The number of openings for children under 2 years old in those centers fell by 8 percent during the same time period, amounting to about 100 lost slots for young children.

The shift means that while Bright Horizons, one for-profit day care provider that charges up to $40,000 per year for full-time care, is growing, there are fewer spots for families whose total annual income is less than that.

“The capacity has grown, but not for poor people,” said Kathleen Hopkins, vice president of the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone Department of Community Programs that oversees two centers that provide infant care. “There are still not a lot of options for poor families.”

The scarcity of choice for poor families with infants is largely driven by cost. Infants and toddlers are the most expensive age group to serve in child care centers. Most babies in the subsidized child care system are placed in the far less-expensive but also less-regulated subsidized family child care programs, where women get paid meager wages to look after neighborhood kids in their homes, often their living rooms.

But studies nationwide have found family child care programs to be, on average, of lower quality than center-based care, and there’s been a growing interest in increasing the number of slots for infants and toddlers in subsidized New York City child care centers.

Some say that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s universal pre-K expansion and public awareness campaigns such as “Talk to Your Baby” added urgency to this discussion by raising awareness of the importance of receiving high-quality care during the first few years of life.

Staff at the city’s child care resource and referral agencies say they now see a growing number of parents from all backgrounds who believe that early education centers are better equipped than informal arrangements with friends and family to provide quality care and prepare young kids for school. “It’s a trend of the last five years,” says Nancy Kolben, executive director of the child care resource and referral agency Center for Children’s Initiatives.

Early childhood centers that enroll only families who can pay without public subsidies have responded by charging parents more money to offset the high costs inherent in baby care, including expensive sprinkler systems, ground floor classrooms, and that babies be cared for in small groups.

But at subsidized child care centers, rising rents combined with flat city funding have made infant care elusive, despite efforts from ACS to encourage growth.

“Everything we have seen says it’s a money-losing proposition to do [infant care] as a center-based facility because of the infrastructure you need,” said James Matison, executive director of Brooklyn Kindergarten Society, which oversees five early education centers that serve low-income families.

“We lose a lot [of space] if we try to incorporate cribs and changing tables, and enrollment numbers go down,” says Maria Contreras-Collier, executive director of Cypress Hills Child Care Corporation.
Some directors say that serving infants is easier at large child care centers that can dedicate a few rooms to babies without cutting back on overall enrollment.

Hanover Place Child Care, a center in Downtown Brooklyn, is a case in point. A large school with a total capacity for over 300 children, it accepts more vouchers to care for infants than any other center in the city. In recent years, as surrounding neighborhoods gentrified, it has begun attracting families who pay privately.

But after a special-education preschool it shared its building and some staff with closed, Hanover Place lost a security guard, art teacher and a nurse. Meanwhile, rents in the neighborhood skyrocketed as new construction crept closer and closer.

Some local parents fear it is only a matter of time before the Brooklyn real estate boom will lead the center to close its doors entirely, or at least close doors to families unable to pay the tuition necessary to keep them open.

This story is adapted from a policy brief from the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs.

Charter growth

Smaller cohort of charter schools to open in Memphis in 2018

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Daphnè Robinson, director of charter schools for Shelby County Schools, offers recommendations to the school board.

With charter schools comprising a fourth of Shelby County Schools, district leaders say they’re setting a higher bar for opening new ones in Memphis.

The school board approved only three out of 14 applications on Tuesday night, just months after the district overhauled its charter school office to strengthen oversight of the growing sector.

Opening in 2018 will be Believe Memphis Academy, Freedom Preparatory Academy, and Perea Elementary. The approvals mean the district will oversee 55 charter schools, easily the largest number of any district in Tennessee.

But it’s significantly less than last year, when the board green-lighted seven applicants. Since then, Shelby County Schools has doubled the size of its charter oversight office and stepped up scrutiny of applications.

“We want to strengthen the process every school year because, when it comes down to it, the lives of our kids are at stake and millions of dollars in taxpayer money,” said Brad Leon, chief of strategy and performance management.

This year, the district hired a new leader and new staff for its charter office. It also used five application reviewers from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the group that last year recommended a slew of changes for opening, managing and closing charter schools.

But even with all the changes, the school board didn’t follow all of the staff’s recommendations. Perea’s application had been recommended for denial but, after much discussion, the board voted 7-2 to let the group open an elementary school inside the recently closed Klondike Elementary building. Board members pointed to Perea’s long record of success in operating a preschool at Klondike.

The other two approvals were in line with staff recommendations. Believe Memphis Academy will be a literacy-focused college preparatory school serving students in grades 4-8 in the city’s medical district. Memphis-based Freedom Prep will open its fifth school, which eventually will serve grades 6-12 in the Whitehaven and Nonconnah communities.

Board member Teresa Jones expressed concern about deviating from staff recommendations on Perea.

“We have a process. And by all accounts, it’s not a perfect process, but it’s been applied to everyone,” she said.

But Billy Orgel, another board member, said the charter office should have taken into account the long-standing preschool’s performance, even though it’s never operated an elementary school.

“There is a track record with the funders. There is a track record with the school,” he said, adding that “no process is perfect.”

Groups vying for approval this year wanted to open schools that range from an all-girls program to a sports academy to several focused on science, technology, engineering and math.