Achievement School District announces KIPP, Knowledge Academies to open Nashville schools

The Achievement School District has authorized two charter organizations to open schools in Nashville, which is relatively unchartered territory for the state-run school turnaround district.

District leaders announced Friday that KIPP Nashville and Knowledge Academies will launch their first ASD schools in the 2017-2018 school year.

No new charter organizations were authorized to open schools in Memphis, where the ASD has focused most of its school turnaround work since 2012. Margo Roen, the ASD’s chief of new schools, said the state district received fewer applications in Memphis this year.

The drop in Memphis applications may in part be due to a decision last fall by Shelby County administrators to no longer share facilities with charter operators that choose to phase in school operations, rather than taking control of an entire school at one time. Beginning with the 2015-16 school year, students in Shelby County Schools were moved out of all but one school under the co-location model.

The lack of new Memphis operators doesn’t mean the ASD won’t expand its footprint in Memphis, however.

“We will have operators who are already authorized through the ASD who will be allowed to grow for the 2016-2017 school year,” Roen said. “We do anticipate growing in Memphis.”

The additional schools planned under the additional operators will grow the ASD’s reach to at least 31 schools by the 2017-18 school year. In the upcoming school year, the ASD will operate 29 schools — 27 in Memphis and two in Nashville. The vast majority have been converted to charter schools.

KIPP Nashville will open an elementary school serving roughly 200 students in kindergarten and first grade, with plans to add a grade each year, eventually enrolling 500 students. Knowledge Academies Inc. will open a middle school serving approximately 360 students in grades five through eight, although the ASD has not determined if the school will be opened all at once, or phased in over several years.

“We’re very excited to have a larger impact in Nashville,” Roen said. “These are great operators who already have a great track record in Nashville.”

KIPP, a national organization based in San Francisco, already operates four schools in Nashville, all authorized through Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. Knowledge Academies, based in Antioch, Tenn., currently operates two schools through Metro Nashville Schools, with a third opening in the fall of 2016.

ASD leaders have said they will bring additional Tennessee schools under state oversight in the next year, a process that will ramp up in the coming weeks.

There could be new ASD schools announced for Nashville operated by previously state-authorized organizations, including LEAD Public Schools, which runs the ASD’s two current Nashville schools. The ASD will determine which of its current operators will grow to serve more students based on the growth made by the organizations’ existing ASD schools.

From there, all operators approved to serve neighborhood schools in the 2016-2017 school year will participate in a rebooted community input process from August to December. KIPP Nashville and Knowledge Academies will receive community input on which schools they should be matched with in fall 2016.

KIPP went through a rocky matching process last fall through Metro Nashville Public Schools, triggering fiery debate and the creation of two parent advocacy groups in East Nashville. Ultimately, Metro officials assigned the organization to take over Kirkpatrick Elementary, which opened under KIPP’s purview earlier this week.

The ASD previously had authorized KIPP Nashville to open a middle school, but KIPP decided to apply for an elementary school instead. Rocketship is also authorized to open schools in Nashville with the ASD, but has been focusing its Tennessee expansion through the local district.

Erick Huth, the president of the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association,  said he is dismayed at the ASD’s plan to expand in his district.

“Further expansion of the Achievement School District means more money dedicated to their charter schools, and that Metro’s salaries and operational budget will continue to be constricted,” he said.


Editor’s note: This story revises the third paragraph from an earlier version and includes a new fourth paragraph, clarifying that the ASD accepts phase-in applications and that Shelby County Schools is relocating phased-out grades.