ASD names five more Memphis schools chosen for state intervention

The state’s Achievement School District will use state law to assume control of five more chronically-underperforming Memphis schools next year and hand them over to charter school operators, district officials said Friday.

Those schools are: Denver, Brookmeade, and Florida-Kansas elementary schools, and Airways and Wooddale Middle schools.

The charter organizations, which are publicly-financed but independently run, will be allowed to, among other things, change the school’s name, replace staff and bring in new curriculum and discipline procedures.

“The traditional school system is not set up in a way that unleashes excellence,” ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic said Friday from Nashville. “Top down bureaucracies don’t do that. These kids need to be getting the education they deserve.”

A third of Shelby County Schools are low-performing enough to be eligible for ASD intervention. Under state law, the ASD can take control of schools academically ranked in the state’s bottom 5 percent. Including the five schools announced Friday, the ASD next year will control 30 former Shelby County Schools, and will have 10,000 former Shelby County students in its schools.

At some of the schools the ASD named Friday, as few as one out of every six students can read at grade level, faculty regularly fail to show up to work, and fights often break out in the hallways.

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said Friday that his district should have done a better job with the schools being taken by the ASD. “Shame on Shelby County Schools for not supporting these schools the way they should be,” he said during a press conference at his office Friday.

Memphis politicians have raised concerns that the city’s school district, which for more than a century has served as one of the area’s largest employers, could virtually cease to exist over the next several years.  In some communities, such as Frayser, virtually all of the district’s elementary schools are now run by the ASD.

“Every school I send my kid to, the ASD takes it over,” said Draylon Johnson, the father of an autistic child at Denver Elementary School, his third school in as many years. “When does it stop?”

ASD administrators launched a “matching process” in October in which they named 12 schools they were considering taking over, and  held a series of get-to-know-you meetings with community members before making a final decision about which schools to hand over to which charter school operators.

At those meetings, many of which turned into shouting matches, teachers, parents, board members, and politicians argued that the ASD schools’ test results have been, in some instances, worse than the schools ASD administrators are proposing to take over.  They also questioned why they didn’t take schools from the bottom of the state’s priority list — the worst of the worst.

Hopson said he didn’t agree with the list of schools the ASD was considering, and board members called for a moratorium on the ASD’s expansion.

Teachers organized and several communities held rallies on street corners, during board meetings, and at schools.

“Folks like to get their zingers and do their grandstanding in front of the media,” Barbic said Friday. “I’d rather them channel their energy the right way.”

“This process opened up the board’s eyes to what their parents were going through,” said Stephanie Love, a recently-elected board member who organized several of the rallies against the ASD. She has said she decided to run for the school board after a school her son attends was taken over by the ASD. At Tuesday’s board meeting, she proposed a referendum calling for a more transparent takeover process.

Adding to the ASD’s challenges, three flagship charter school organizations unexpectedly pulled out of the matching process last month. Two of those organizations, KIPP and Freedom Prep, said they realized that they were unprepared to take over new schools.

Officials at a third, Green Dot Public Schools, said they didn’t feel they had the necessary community support to take over Raleigh-Egypt High School, where students rallied around the school’s new principal to protest the takeover.

ASD officials said they “methodically” chose the schools based on a set of criteria created and agreed upon by them and Shelby County Schools officials. That criteria included feeder patterns, student population, and average test score gains. They also said they considered more subjective information including new leadership in place at some schools, and and how changes would affect students.

They repeatedly pointed to flexibilities allowed by law and reminded the public how poorly the schools they were proposing to take over performed under the traditional school system.

The final list on Friday matched the list the Achievement Advisory Committee, a group of citizens, put forward earlier this week. That committee made its decisions based on hundreds of surveys and in-person interviews they attempted to conduct over the last several weeks.  AAC members raised concern with ASD officials this week that many parents weren’t aware of the takeover and didn’t engage in the process.

“People really needed to be at the table and they just weren’t there,” said Tiffany Futch, an AAC member.

Barbic recognized on Friday that some ASD schools, including the ones the district runs itself, aren’t performing up to his expectations. He said he will consider handing those schools off to other charter organizations next year.

“If they’re not getting the results we expect, we will hold them accountable,” Barbic said.

Both Hopson and Barbic committed to meeting next week to design a plan for 25 schools that are at risk of being taken over by the ASD.  That could include either staying with the traditional school district and given flexibilities under state law, or being taken over by the ASD. Some will get no intervention at all.

Of the final list of schools named, two of those charter organizations, Libertas and YES Prep Public Schools, will only take over one grade at a time. Shelby County Schools administrators said they will move students in the other grades of the schools next year and move them to better performing schools. Those plans could come as soon as next month.

Denver Elementary will be run by Capstone Education Group, Wooddale Middle School by Green Dot Public Schools, Brookmeade Elementary by Libertas School of Memphis, Florida-Kansas Elementary by Scholar Academies, Airways Middle School by YES Prep Public Schools.

Raumesh Akbari, a state representative from Memphis, proposed legislation Friday that would restrict the ASD from expanding grades at schools and require the ASD to take over entire schools at a time.

ASD officials said on Friday they will also open a new elementary school that KIPP Memphis, a charter organization, will run.

Familes were told of the news Friday afternoon.

Reaction of Florida-Kansas Elementary parents ranged from indifference to disappointment after learning the ASD would operate the school next year.

“I think they should keep the school like it is,” said Tarquisha Suggs, whose daughter, sister and two nephews attend the school.  “This is our school, there are good teachers and they have a good pre-K program here,” added her mother, Toyle Suggs.