Editor’s note: Gateway University Charter School was ordered to shut down a year after a Chalkbeat investigation into the Memphis high school found the administration falsified grades, improperly employed uncertified teachers, and awarded credits for a geometry class that did not exist. Find other articles in this series here.
The Shelby County Schools board voted unanimously Tuesday to close a northeast Memphis charter high school.
Board members Joyce Dorse-Coleman, Stephanie Love, Michelle Robinson McKissack, Scott McCormick, Shante Avant, Billy Orgel, and Kevin Woods, Miska Clay Bibbs voted in favor of closing Gateway University at the end of this school year. The school now has 10 calendar days to appeal to the state Board of Education.
The vote comes on the heels of a district investigation that found Gateway’s leaders intentionally deceived Shelby County Schools and that they mismanaged the school.
Sosepriala Dede, who leads the 150-student high school, was present at the Tuesday board meeting alongside about a dozen Gateway students and parents. On Monday, Dede spoke out against the investigation’s findings during a public hearing. He said the school had made its share of mistakes in its first year, but that it deserved to stay open.
Read our in-depth investigation into Gateway University here, which was first published in June.
Dede did not speak during public comment on Tuesday, but five students and parents in attendance voiced their support for Gateway and its leader.
Takirra Hill, 15, a sophomore at Gateway was among them, telling the board: “In a minimum amount of time, we have progressed tremendously. I chose this school because I love the standards teachers have set for us. … I would love to finish my high school years with Gateway.”
Gateway sophomore Benjamin Inman, 15, said that Dede had “worked really hard for this,” adding, “please don’t shut us down.”
Dede told Chalkbeat previously that he would appeal a school board decision to close Gateway. The state board will then hold a hearing in Memphis, and can either side with the local Memphis district or overturn its decision, which would keep the school open.
Shelby County Schools rarely recommends closing charter schools, but lately has ramped up oversight in evaluating applications for new charter schools and monitoring current schools with low test scores and poor operations. Since the first charter school opened in Tennessee in 2003, the state board has overturned 15 out of 72 school board decisions to approve, revoke, or renew a charter.
Gateway was investigated by the district following a June Chalkbeat report into allegations by former staff members. Several of those allegations, including that the school falsified a geometry class and relied on uncertified teachers, were substantiated in the district investigation.
The two-year-old school also didn’t have a legitimate governing board and hired an employee that did not clear a background check, according to the district.
Brad Leon, the district’s chief of strategy and performance management, told board members Tuesday that he believed academic problems would escalate if the school remained open, citing that geometry students who passed the course last year were re-enrolled in it this year and that eight teachers at the school are currently teaching outside of their licensed area.
Board member Love encouraged a deeper audit into district charter schools, one that would look into teacher credentials and campus budgets.
You can find the full presentation on the district investigation below: