charter expansion

See who wants to open a charter school in Memphis in 2019

PHOTO: Micaela Watts
A student at work at Freedom Preparatory Academy in Memphis.

Fewer applicants are vying to open charter schools in Memphis and one of them will seek to convert religious schools to publicly funded charters.

Ten charter organizations applied to Shelby County Schools ahead of the April 2 deadline to open 18 schools in 2019. That’s down from 14 applicants last year, and the school board only approved three.

The most prominent among this year’s applications are nine schools that would be managed by a new organization led by Christian Brothers University president John Smarrelli. New Day Schools would convert the sites of private Catholic schools into charters. If approved, it would be the first such conversion in Memphis and represent a new strategy to obtain public money after private school tuition vouchers failed to be approved in the state legislature. Eight schools would be kindergarten through eighth grade, and one would be seventh through 12th grade.

Five of the applicants already run schools in Memphis, either under Shelby County Schools or the state. The others would be opening their first charter school. (See the bottom of this story for a map of proposed neighborhoods.)

New this year are online access early in the approval process and a public comment period through April 27. You can access all charter applications here.

Shelby County Schools has the most charter schools in Tennessee, which are publicly funded schools that are privately managed by a board of directors. The Memphis district now has 51 charters that educate about 15,000, or 14 percent, of its students.

This year is the second under a more rigorous application process since Shelby County Schools doubled the size of its charter office to beef up monitoring.

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

  • Aspire Public Schools seeks to open Aspire Coleman Middle School in Raleigh to explicitly “distinguish” the charter’s existing middle school program from its elementary. The application harkens back to a tiff between Shelby County Schools and the state Department of Education over the charter’s legal ability to add grades to its state turnaround school. The new school, if approved, would allow the state to create a new school that would be under local oversight.
  • Aster College Prep seeks to open a fifth-through-eighth-grade college preparatory school in Orange Mound. It would be led by Teshanda Middleton, a fellow with Building Excellent Schools, a national charter school incubator.
  • Blueprint Adovah is a new charter organization and seeks to open a projects-based learning high school in South City.
  • Capstone Education Group seeks to open its third school in Memphis, but it would be the first under Shelby County Schools. Its two schools are under the state-run Achievement School District, which has taken over about two dozen city schools and handed them over to charters. The group did not specify which neighborhood the proposed middle school would be located in but noted it would focus on college preparatory courses.
  • Freedom Preparatory Academy seeks to open its sixth school as a K-8 college preparatory campus in Sherwood Forest.
  • Green Dot Public Schools seeks to open a K-8 school in Whitehaven as a feeder school to Fairley High School, a charter overseen by the state. The California-based charter organization operates four schools under the state. One of them was authorized by the state Board of Education, the first in the state after Shelby County Schools denied their application in 2016.
  • Harvest International Academy seeks to open its first Memphis school in Parkway Village, where teachers would facilitate discussion and learning instead of lecturing. They would also include more cultural content that is relevant to their students. The elementary school would be led by Denise Wilson, a teacher with Shelby County Schools.
  • Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering (MASE), the city’s first charter school, seeks to open an elementary school focused on science, technology, engineering and math.
  • Memphis Merit Academy would serve K-8 grade students in south and southeast Memphis. The school would be led by Lakenna Booker, a Building Excellent Schools fellow who formerly worked in Shelby County Schools, KIPP Memphis and Gestalt Community Schools, according to her LinkedIn profile.
  • New Day Schools, operated by Christian Brothers University president Smarrelli, hopes to convert nine campuses of the soon-to-be former Jubilee Catholic Schools Network in Whitehaven, South Memphis, Orange Mound, Midtown, Hickory Hill, Frayser, Downtown, Binghampton, and Berclair. None of the schools would keep their religious teachings.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.