ASD CLOSURE

Highest-performing state-run high school to close due to ‘sustainability challenges’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat Tennessee
This summer, GRAD Academy Memphis became the third state-run charter school to close in Memphis.

For the third time, a state-run school will shutter in Memphis.

Officials with GRAD Academy announced Monday that they will close their South Memphis high school at the end of this school year. It is the only Memphis school run by Project GRAD USA, a charter organization based in Houston, as a part of Tennessee’s Achievement School District.

“This decision was made by Project GRAD USA’s board based on the sustainability challenges Memphis GRAD Academy has faced,” said Daryl Ogden, the charter organization’s CEO, in a statement. “The decision was not based on any performance issues.”

The announcement comes on the heels of major changes to the state’s turnaround district and signals the end of its highest-performing high school. GRAD Academy has the greatest percentage of ASD high students scoring on grade level, according to state data from 2017.  

But the high school has lagged in enrollment. About 535 students were enrolled during the 2016-17 school year compared to 468 at the start of the 2017-18 year, a drop of about 13 percent.  

Ogden said students and parents were informed about the upcoming closure on Monday morning. He added that students will receive support through meetings and information sessions as they prepare to find a new school.

Kathleen Airhart, the ASD’s interim superintendent, said the state-run district will support those efforts and help teachers there find new positions.

“We have appreciated GRAD Academy’s work to serve additional high school students and are now focused on ensuring those same students can transition seamlessly this summer into their next school or postsecondary institution,” said Airhart. “We want to create as much stability as possible so students’ progress continues over the course of this semester and into the future.”

Memphis GRAD Academy opened in 2013 as a “new start” school under the state-run district, meaning that it started from scratch and was not an existing low-performing school taken from the local district with the charge of turning it around.

KIPP Memphis University Middle School, also a new start in south Memphis under the Achievement School District, shuttered last May. Klondike Preparatory Academy Elementary shut down last spring after its operator, Gestalt Community Schools, pulled out of the ASD completely. Now, state legislation passed in 2017 prohibits the Achievement School District from creating new start schools. 

Both KIPP and Gestalt cited lagging enrollment as a challenge to long-term sustainability. Ogden did not immediately respond to questions on whether enrollment was the key issue behind the decision to close GRAD Academy.

The Achievement School District was established by the state in 2012 with the goal of vaulting the state’s 5 percent of lowest-achieving schools to the top 25 percent within five years, but test scores and research have shown it’s fallen short of that initial goal. After the closure of GRAD Academy, the state-run district will run 31 schools in Memphis and Nashville.

Reporter Laura Faith Kebede contributed to this report.

new schools

New $85 million Englewood high school to focus on science and technology, careers

PHOTO: Chicago Public Schools
A rendering of the new $85 million high school planned in Englewood.

Chicago Public Schools announced Monday that it will open a “state-of-the-art” high school focusing on career-preparation and math, science and engineering education in Englewood, a South Side community where the district is closing several high schools.

Englewood STEM High School already under construction, will open next fall with just freshman and add a grade each subsequent year until it becomes a full-fledged 9-12 school in the 2022-23 school year, according to a press release issued by the school district.

The school will be the district’s ninth “early college” STEM high school, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math. The district is building the $85 million school on the site of Robeson High School, which was closed over the summer.

Englewood STEM High School will be “a brand new, state-of-the-art, three-story facility that will include world-class multipurpose educational spaces, a modern outdoor sports facility, and a school-based medical center for use by both students as well as community residents,” according to the district’s statement. Students will be able to earn college credits and certificates through a partnership with Kennedy-King College. The school will also offer vocational programs in information technology and health sciences and will provide mentoring, internships and other work experiences.

“We are thrilled to bring together Englewood students in the state-of-the-art high school they deserve with world-class academic programming that will ensure the new school rivals the city’s best,” district CEO Janice Jackson said in a statement.

A rendering of the new $85 million high school planned in Englewood.

The school is intended to attract students in the Robeson, Hope and Harper school areas who leave their neighborhoods for higher-rated schools elsewhere. Both Hope and Harper are slated to close. TEAM Englewood, the fourth school closing, doesn’t have attendance boundaries.

The district named Conrad Timbers-Ausar as the new school’s principal. Timbers-Ausar was previously principal of charter school Urban Prep Academy for Young Men, in Bronzeville. He was the founding principal at two alternative schools, Ombudsman West and Ombudsman South, and has taught history, graphic design and entrepreneurship at the Chicago International Charter Schools Ralph Ellison campus, where he was twice voted teacher of the year.

Future of Schools

Chicago’s public school system is still shrinking, new data shows

PHOTO: Creative Commons / Charles Wiriawan

After 15 years of consecutive drops, the number of students enrolled in Chicago’s public schools fell again this year.

Enrollment dropped 2.7 percent, to 361,314 students, from the previous fall, according to a count taken on the 20th day of school. New data were released Friday. (The district also released new school ratings on Friday. You can find your school’s latest rating here.)

Size matters, because the number of students determines how many critical state dollars a district receives. In Chicago, state funding accounts for roughly 30 percent of the district budget, including paying into the employee pension fund.

At the school level, per-student funding determines how many teachers a principal can hire, whether or not there are librarians and arts teachers, and how many programs are offered. Principals received this school year’s budgets last spring based on prior year counts.

Schools that lost students will not lose funding for this year; however, 54 schools that anticipated growth and that did not hit targets will lose money. The average adjustment per school is $59,000, with $3.2 million in total forfeited, the district said. The district said in a statement that it will not eliminate any jobs as a result.

On the flip side, the district also announced that schools that gained students since last school year would receive additional funding — to total $15.5 million across 307 schools. That’s to account for budgeting that was based on previous year counts.

“The district’s improved financial position means we can support growing schools and invest more in schools where enrollment is declining with funds specifically designed to support schools that are underenrolled,” said Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson.

Plans to support schools losing population include such assists as a $10 million small schools fund and a new underenrolled schools policy — passed by the board this week — that codifies alternatives to closure.

The number of students in Chicago charters declined by 1 percent to total 54,569, and the number of prekindergarten students dropped by less than 1 percent, too, to 17,668, despite a citywide push under Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Chicago schools aren’t the only ones shrinking. Enrollment is down across the state. A declining birth rate, fewer immigrants, and a population in retrenchment are all to blame.

District projections show Chicago schools losing another 20,000 students across the next three years. The trends mirror population drops in Chicago, which has about 182,000 fewer residents than it did 18 years ago, according to U.S. Census data. More than 220,000 black residents have left the city since the year 2000.