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.

First Person

A Queens teacher on Charlottesville: ‘It can’t just be teachers of color’ offering lessons on race

PHOTO: Bob Mical/Creative Commons

In a few short weeks, school will resume in New York and I’m already thinking about how we are going to address racism within the four walls of my classroom. I’m thinking about what texts, historical and current, we can read and films and documentaries we can watch to support dialogue, questioning, and solutions for combatting that ugly, pervasive thread in the fabric of our country’s patchwork quilt called racism.

Last year we read “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” a former slave turned abolitionist, and juxtaposed its reading with a viewing of Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th,” which discusses modern-day slavery in the guise of mass incarceration. Students asked questions of the documentary as they watched it and discussed those queries within their groups and with the class at large afterwards.

We do our children and ourselves a disservice when we don’t have these difficult conversations as a part of our collective curriculums. However, many teachers from various walks of life are neither well-versed nor fully comfortable discussing race on any level with their students. Not talking about racism won’t make it go away. If anything, not talking about racism in the classroom further perpetuates racist ideologies that are, at their root, born out of ignorance. Education’s goal is to dispel ignorance and replace it with truth.

With that being said, just how many teachers feel equipped to facilitate lessons that touch heavily upon race in the classroom? Not nearly enough.

According to Teaching Tolerance, “The dialogue about race should start in the classroom — the teacher-prep classroom, that is. Preservice teachers should be exploring multiculturalism and discussing ways to honor diversity in their future classrooms.”

But often, Hilton Kelly, a professor of education at Davidson College in North Carolina told the site, the coursework isn’t giving future teachers the training they need to talk about race. “Even when future teachers take courses on diversity and multiculturalism,” Kelly said, “those courses don’t take the critical approach to race that future teachers truly need.”

“Food, folklore and festivals are not the same as an analysis of race in America,” Kelly argued.

But an analysis of race in America is exactly what needs to happen. Furthermore, it can’t just be teachers of color solely facilitating such lessons in their classrooms.

I don’t want to write about the events going on in Virginia. I don’t want to think about it. I’m so tired of the hatred and I long for peace, but I can’t very well in good conscience remain silent. That would be akin to protesting with those hate-mongers in Virginia last weekend. I can’t just write about back-to-school shopping, lesson planning, and business-as-usual while my brothers and sisters in Virginia are being murdered in cold blood by white supremacist American Nazis.

Are the children of Virginia safe? Are our children anywhere safe? What can I do to make a difference within the hearts and minds of the children whom I teach? If education is our best vehicle for bringing about change — which it is— how am I going to infuse the lessons I teach with critical thinking and analysis about racism in the United States for the seventh-graders entrusted in my care? How are other educators planning to address these events with their students at every grade-level?

I pose these questions to all who are reading. Whether you are a teacher, a student, a parent, an administrator, or a community member, I plead with you to work together to create answers that work toward healthy conversations and hands-on action in the fight against racism.

Vivett Dukes is a teacher at Eagle Academy For Young Men in Queens. A version of this post first appeared on New York School Talk

Consolation prize

Crosstown High wins $2.5 million to help reinvent high school in Memphis

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Newly named leaders Chandra Sledge Mathias and Chris Terrill are working to launch Crosstown High School, a charter school that will open in the fall of 2018 in midtown Memphis.

A charter school opening next year in midtown Memphis has been awarded a $2.5 million grant through a national contest aimed at reinventing America’s high schools.

Leaders of Crosstown High announced Wednesday that it’s receiving the money over five years from the XQ Super School Challenge, an initiative backed by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

The upcoming school garnered national attention last year as a finalist for one of five $10 million XQ awards. Although Crosstown didn’t win, its leaders say the new award will help keep the school on the map of America’s “schools of the future.” (Crosstown is among 18 schools being featured on a live national broadcast on network television on Sept. 8.)

“This hasn’t been attempted in Memphis,” said Chris Terrill, executive director of Crosstown High, about creating a high school of tomorrow from scratch. “There’s energy nationwide for education reform, and we get to be a part of that.”

The new Memphis school will look different from a traditional high school. No classrooms arranged with rows of desks. No high-stakes tests. No failing grades. It will join a growing group of other U.S. schools grounded in mastery-based learning, which emphasizes student-led projects over teacher lectures.

Authorized last year by Shelby County Schools, Crosstown High will open in 2018 with 125 ninth-grade students, eventually growing to 500 across four grades. The students will be chosen through a random lottery that opens in September.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Crosstown Concourse has room for more than just the 500-student high school.

The school will be housed on several floors at Crosstown Concourse, a redeveloped high-rise building that once was a Sears warehouse. The building opened this spring as an urban village and already is home to several nonprofit organizations, community health initiatives and creative arts groups, with whom the school is seeking to leverage partnerships.

“Inside the concourse, there are thousands of different job titles,” said Terrill, whose family has moved into an apartment in the complex. “We’ll be able to listen to what students are interested in and then pair them with places that match those interests.”

Terrill arrived at Crosstown this summer from Mooresville, N.C., where he was head of a charter school. He’s being joined by another charter leader from Warrenton, N.C., Chandra Sledge Mathias, who will serve as Crosstown’s first principal.

Much of the $2.5 million award will go toward professional development, says Sledge Mathias.

“We have lofty ideas, but making it happen in real life is what we need to make happen,” she said. “That starts with teachers who understand what we’re trying to do here, which is going to be very different than the classrooms they’re coming from.”

The school invites the community to stop by Crosstown Concourse on Thursday for a block party celebration featuring the XQ Super School Bus, which visited Memphis last summer as part of the national competition. The event will be an opportunity for Memphians to weigh in on what they want to see at Crosstown High, said Ginger Spickler, the school’s director of strategic partnerships and projects.

“Being a super school means questioning everything,” Spickler said. “We have a mandate to try to do things differently. We want community input as we continue to figure out what different looks like.”