17 schools in Tennessee’s turnaround district remain priority schools 6 years after first takeovers

Most of the schools that were taken over by Tennessee’s turnaround district remain on the state’s priority list six years after the intervention efforts began.

Four of the six original Memphis schools that were taken over by the state in 2012 are on the newest priority list released last week. And more than a dozen schools that were added to the district later also remain on the list.

For years, the district has fallen short of its ambitious promise to dramatically raise test scores at the schools by handing them over to charter operators — a goal that the district’s founder later acknowledged was too lofty. And researchers with the Tennessee Education Research Alliance recently concluded that schools in the state district are doing no better than other low-performing schools that received no state help.

Read our deep dive into how the original six schools in the Achievement School District performed on recent state tests.

Still, the new list offers yet another troubling data point as the turnaround effort enters a new and uncertain phase. And it quickly drew attention from critics of district, including Diane Ravitch, an education historian who has long been critical of school reform models like the Achievement School District and picked up the story on her blog earlier this week.

Of the 34 schools that have ever been part of the Achievement School District, 17 are on the new priority list, and four have closed. Thirteen schools are not on the new list.

In contrast, Memphis’ Innovation Zone, an improvement initiative from the local district, saw more of its schools move upward: 16 out of 25 schools absorbed into the iZone improved enough to exit the list.

State officials are counting on Sharon Griffin, the architect of the Innovation Zone, to right the ship at the Achievement School District. They hired her to lead the district in April, and she now oversees its 30 schools, all but two of which are in Memphis.

The district was originally designed as the linchpin of the state’s intervention into low-performing schools. But the state hasn’t taken over a school since 2016 and has put more effort into collaborative efforts, like a Partnership Zone in Hamilton County.

Still, the state says the Achievement School District has had a positive influence that might not be reflected in its own school’s scores. Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently praised Shelby County Schools’ progress, giving partial credit to the state’s own Achievement School District for creating a sense of urgency in Memphis.

But the latest priority list offers ample ammunition if the state’s next governor chooses to make serious changes to the initiative a priority. Both gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Karl Dean and Republican Bill Lee, have said they would take a hard look at the district’s strengths and challenges before deciding how the state should use its energy to improve struggling schools.

Here’s a breakdown of state-run schools, listed by the year they were taken into the state-run district. In parentheses, we note the year that school made the state’s priority list.


  • Brick Church College Prep (2018, 2014, 2012)
  • Cornerstone Prep – Lester Elementary (2014, 2012)
  • Humes Prep Academy (2012)
  • Corning Achievement (2018, 2014, 2012)
  • Frayser Achievement (2018, 2014, 2012)
  • Westside Achievement (2018, 2014, 2012)


  • KIPP Memphis Academy Elementary (formerly Shannon Elementary) (2014, 2012)
  • KIPP Memphis Prep Middle (formerly Corry Middle) (2012)
  • Aspire Hanley #1 (2014, 2012)
  • Aspire Hanley #2 (2018, 2014, 2012)
  • Klondike Prep Academy (2012)*
  • Grad Academy High School (2018)*
  • Georgian Hills Achievement (2014, 2012)
  • Whitney Achievement (2018, 2014, 2012)


  • Fairley High School – Green Dot (2018, 2014, 2012)
  • KIPP Memphis University Middle School*
  • Aspire Coleman Elementary (2014, 2012)
  • MLK College Prep High School (2018, 2014, 2012)
  • Freedom Prep Westwood (2018, 2014, 2012)
  • Pathways in Education – Frayser
  • Pathways in Education – Whitehaven
  • Lester Prep Middle School
  • Promise Spring Hill Elementary (2014, 2012)


  • Neelys Bend College Prep (2018, 2014)
  • Wooddale Middle School – Green Dot (2018, 2014, 2012)
  • KIPP Memphis Prep Elementary
  • Libertas School (formerly Brookmeade Elementary) (2014, 2012)
  • Memphis Scholars – Florida Kansas (2018, 2014)
  • Cornerstone Prep Denver (2018, 2014, 2012)


  • Memphis Scholars Caldwell-Guthrie (2018, 2014, 2012)
  • Memphis Scholars Raleigh-Egypt (2018, 2014, 2012)
  • Hillcrest High School (2018, 2014, 2012)
  • Kirby Middle School (2018, 2014, 2012)
  • Rocketship Partners Community Prep*

*This school has closed.