Former school turnaround chief Chris Barbic joins Tennessee charter center board

Achievement School District Superintendent Chris Barbic visits Georgian Hills Elementary, a Memphis school that the state-run district has operated since 2013.
Chris Barbic visits Georgian Hills Elementary School in Memphis in 2015 when he was superintendent of Tennessee’s Achievement School District, a state-run school turnaround initiative mostly centered in Memphis. Barbic stepped down from the job later that year. (Daarel Burnette / Chalkbeat)

Chris Barbic, the founding superintendent of Tennessee’s Achievement School District and now a partner in a national charter school investment group, has joined the board of the state’s leading nonprofit charter advocacy organization.

The Tennessee Charter School Center announced the appointment of Barbic to its 10-member board on Friday.

Barbic, who founded a successful charter network in Houston in the 1990s, was a highly visible education leader in Tennessee from 2012 to 2015 as the first superintendent of the state-run turnaround initiative known as the Achievement School District. In that role, he shaped Tennessee’s most intense model for improving schools, in which the state takes over low-performing schools and assigns them mostly to charter operators. Tennessee is now revamping that model, which was applied mostly in Memphis and has achieved limited success in meeting its goals.

A resident of Nashville, Barbic is now a partner with The City Fund, created in 2018 by a group of high-profile education reformers including former Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. The fund seeks to expand charter and charter-like schools and has invested millions of dollars in organizations in more than a dozen cities, including Memphis and Nashville.

“Chris is dedicated to students and good schools and he’s not afraid to try new things and to innovate,” said Maya Bugg, CEO of the Tennessee Charter School Center. “He also brings a national perspective and has insights into state-level education work here in Tennessee.”

Formed in 2013 through a merger of two charter groups, the charter school center is a research, resource, and advocacy group that aims to support and develop high-quality public charter schools.

“Our larger vision is that all students across Tennessee have access to a high-quality public education, and we think we can leverage public charter schools to help that along,” Bugg said of the publicly funded, independently operated schools.

Others who joined the center’s board this year are Terence Patterson, CEO of the Memphis Education Fund and past president and CEO of the Downtown Memphis Commission; and Lydia Hoffman, a partner with the Charter School Growth Fund, a national nonprofit organization that invests in charter school work.

Patterson is also a member of the new Tennessee Public Charter School Commission, which in 2021 takes over responsibility for hearing appeals from operators whose applications to start, renew, or amend charters are denied by local school boards. That responsibility currently rests with the state Board of Education, but is shifting to the commission under a 2019 state law backed by Gov. Bill Lee.

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