Three charter networks apply to operate five Memphis schools

The Tennessee Achievement School District announced Monday that three charter networks have applied to expand next year in Memphis as part of the state-run district’s plan to take over and convert five low-performing schools to charters.

However, the ASD has backed off of its earlier proposal for its own direct-run Achievement Schools network to operate Hawkins Mill Elementary School, another low-performing school, which will remain under the control of Shelby County Schools next year.

The operators and schools continuing in the ASD’s conversion process are:

The application deadline was last Friday for charter networks that want to be part of the ASD’s turnaround work next year in Memphis, which has Tennessee’s highest concentration of underperforming schools. The ASD already oversees 27 schools, 21 of which were previously under the control of Shelby County Schools.

Achievement Schools pulled out of the Hawkins Mill conversation in order to focus on improving test scores in its current five schools in Memphis’ Frayser community, according to executive director Tim Ware.

“After doing our due diligence, ultimately we decided that it will be best for the Achievement Schools network to spend this school year focused on building on the knockout results that every one of our schools got last year,” Ware said. “Our math and science growth was phenomenal and, like the rest of the state, we know have some work to do in the area of literacy.”

Stephanie Love, a board member with Shelby County Schools, said the decision was an affirmation of the turnaround work already being done at Hawkins Mill by principal Antonio Harvey, faculty and staff. “I’m glad the ASD saw that Mr. Harvey is very capable of improving our children towards success,” she said.

Aspire Public Schools originally expressed interest in two elementary schools — Caldwell-Guthrie and Sheffield — but ultimately chose to focus on Sheffield. “We decided to engage one neighborhood so we can go deeper rather than wider and focus on quality,” said Nickalous Manning, regional director of strategic partnerships for Aspire.

Leaders with Philadelphia-based Scholar Academies and Los Angeles-based Green Dot were not immediately available for comment.

Scholar Academies applied for Caldwell-Guthrie Elementary and Raleigh-Egypt Middle but pulled out of Kirby Middle conversion talks. In its application, the network said it chose to focus on Raleigh-Egypt because its reading and math proficiency scores were lower and because the school plays a critical role in education in Memphis’ Raleigh community. “With five elementary schools feeding into [Raleigh-Egypt Middle School] and a direct line to Raleigh-Egypt High School, almost all the students in the Raleigh-Egypt community will pass through [the school,]” the application says.

Green Dot applied to operate Kirby Middle and Hillcrest High. In its application, the network cited Hillcrest’s proximity to Fairley High School, which Green Dot began operating last fall. “Over the past three years, Green Dot has been building relationships with the Whitehaven community and has seen great academic gains at Fairley High School,” its application says. “A commonality for Hillcrest and Fairley is A. Maceo Walker Middle School, which feeds into both high schools. The freshman class from Fairley, comprised of students from A. Maceo Walker, has thrived in the Green Dot academic framework and has achieved unparalleled success.”

The networks have been participating in a six-week community engagement process initiated by the ASD during the summer in an attempt to build local consensus about the best plan for the schools’ future, versus being viewed strictly as hostile state takeovers.

The state legislature created the ASD in 2010 and granted authority to intervene in local districts in an effort to turn around chronically underperforming schools. The ASD primarily uses charter networks in its turnaround strategies. The key difference between the ASD’s model and other charter school efforts is that the ASD focuses on turning around existing schools with their existing students, rather than starting new schools and enrolling student bodies from scratch.

Now that applications have been received, the ASD will shift the conversion process to its new neighborhood advisory councils, four panels of about 10 members each and comprised of parents, teachers, students and other community stakeholders. The councils will begin convening this week to review the applications and interview the applicants. At the end of November, council members will submit their assessments on school matches — or whether there should be a match at all. ASD officials are scheduled to make their final decisions in early December.

You can find the applications submitted by charter networks here.