Shelby County Schools rejects 11 Memphis charter school applications

With scant public discussion, Shelby County Schools board denied 11 new charter school applications this week.

The denials at Tuesday night’s board meeting were not unexpected, since district staff recommended changes to the applications, said Shelby County Schools Chief of Strategy and Performance Management Bradley Leon after the board meeting.

“The state has pretty clear criteria for what an academic plan should look like, what an operational plan should look like and what a financial plan should look like. None of those schools really met that criteria,” Leon said.

Applicants have 30 days to amend their proposals before a second and final school board vote expected in September.

If the board denies the application a second time, would-be operators could appeal to the state board of education. Beginning in the 2021-22 school year, the nine-member, appointed state charter school commission created earlier this year will supplant the state board’s role in hearing those appeals.

The proposed schools are:

  • Beacon College Prep
  • Encore STEM Academy
  • Freedom Prep K-8
  • Gentlemen & Ladies STEM Academy
  • Green Dot Charter K-8
  • Memphis Business Academy
  • Metamorphoses Vocational Technical School
  • Memphis School of Excellence Middle Cordova
  • Memphis School of Excellence Elementary Cordova
  • Rich Ed Academy of Leaders
  • THE Academy All Girls Charter School

Point-by-point explanations of those denials are posted on the board’s website.

The board also denied two petitions from already-approved new charter schools seeking to amend their contracts to add more students. The board did, however, approve two other requests to add a grade and change building locations.

At the end of this school year, 54 charter schools were operating under Shelby County Schools, and the school board has approved nine more to open in the fall. Charter schools currently serve 15 percent of the district’s 109,000 total students. The majority of new charter applicants are proposing opening in neighborhoods already “oversaturated” with schools, according to a district analysis published in April.

The original contract for Aster College Prep, which the board has approved, said it would open only to fifth graders in August. The board denied the school’s request to add sixth graders and cited the school’s lack of a track record.

The school board also rejected a request from Compass Community Schools to enroll an additional 242 students in its first year. The charter school network will oversee six buildings in various neighborhoods starting next school year. Of those six, the Binghampton campus is the only one scheduled to open in a neighborhood the board has said needs more seats.

The two charter schools that have performed well fared better in their requests to add grades.

The board greenlit the 6-year-old Arrow Academy of Excellence, which now serves students in grades K-3, to add a fourth-grade class next school year. District staff recommended the addition, which it said would create consistency for rising fourth-graders who will be able to stay at Arrow Academy. The change is projected to boost enrollment to 200 students by 2022, up from 76 students this past school year.

The board already had approved Freedom Preparatory Academy, one of the higher-performing charter school networks in Memphis, to open its sixth school. The academy won approval to change its location from Sherwood Forest to the Westwood neighborhood. The board supported the move because the organization has waiting lists in the Westwood area and will be able to serve more students there, according to a briefing document.