Citing capacity concerns, KIPP, Freedom Prep pull out of ASD takeover process

Two charter operators on Monday pulled out of the state’s efforts to take over some of its worst-performing schools next year.

KIPP Memphis officials said they would not take over South Side Middle School and Freedom Prep officials said they would not take over Florida-Kansas and A.B. Hill elementary schools next year, as the state-run Achievement School District had planned.

Officials with both charters raised concerns about their own ability to take over more schools, a laborious and expensive process that includes replacing leadership, hiring teachers, and building a new curriculum.

The development means South Side Middle and A.B. Hills Elementary schools will not be taken over by the state’s Achievement School District. Florida-Kansas could still be matched with Scholar Academies charter.

Two weeks ago, to much fanfare, ASD officials announced that they would take over nine schools next year and hand them over to nonprofit, privately run charter schools.

Over the next two months, they said, the charter operators would go through an extensive “matching” process with 12 schools in order for officials to determine which schools should be taken over. Several meetings with community members were set to start tonight.

Three of those schools – including South Side Middle School – would definitely be taken over by vetted charter operators next year, ASD officials said. Nine other schools would go through a months-long “matching” process to help ASD officials make the determination whether the ASD should, in fact, take over the schools and to which of five charter operators they should match them.

Of the three schools affected by today’s development, only one of them, Florida-Kansas Elementary, has another charter operator — Scholar Academies —  named as a possible pairing partner.

Teachers at South Side Middle School protested the takeover process last week, sending a letter to government officials and the media arguing that their scores had improved in the past year.

KIPP said the protest didn’t play into its decision to pull out of the process.

“We view the matching process as just that, a matching process,” said Jamal McCall, the executive director of KIPP Memphis Collegiate Schools. “With me doing our reflection, I was looking at where we are as a network, and my focus right now is on the quality of our current schools and ensuring that we continue to commit to those we currently serve and serve as we expand grade levels.”

McCall described the matching process with the Achievement School District as cloudy. KIPP originally requested to open a new elementary school inside a school that was closed by the district last year.  That plan, McCall said, is still in the works.

When the Achievement School District proposed KIPP take over South Side Middle School, McCall saw it as a “reachback.”

South Side was on the short list of schools to be taken over last year but ASD officials decided at the last minute not to pair it with ASD or Artesian.

“South Side is not KIPP’s priority list, it’s on ASD’s priority list,” McCall said. “Whether or not KIPP partners with South Side. ASD still has right to decide what happens with south side no matter what KIPP wants.  That’s the law.  South Side is on their priority list.”

Freedom Prep officials said they lack the capacity at the moment to expand their work to additional schools.

For example, each one of their current elementary school classrooms has two teachers an expensive experiment to lower class sizes and give kids more individualized attention.

“It’s really internal and external factors and changes that happened with our organization that effected our capacity to open a brand new schools and serve kids the way they need to be served,” said Roblin Webb, the executive director and founder of Freedom Prep. “We want to serve more kids but the last thing we want to do is serve kids poorly. We’re not doing that school any justice.”

This story has been updated to add comments from KIPP and Freedom Prep leaders.