The Memphis-Shelby County Schools board voted to spare four charter schools Tuesday, going against the recommendations of district administrators who had called for closing the schools over concerns about their academic performance.
KIPP Memphis Academy Middle, KIPP Memphis Collegiate Middle, Arrow Academy of Excellence, and Memphis Business Academy Hickory Hill Middle had all landed on the state’s list of priority schools for the 2021-22 school year, meaning that they were in the bottom 5% academically based on recent achievement data. State law says charter school authorizers, such as MSCS, can shut down schools that appear on the priority list for the first time, though they don’t have to.
But board members voted 7-0 to give all four schools a chance to improve as post-pandemic academic recovery efforts continue. (Vice Chair Sheleah Harris and board member Kevin Woods were absent.)
The board was also slated to vote Tuesday on whether to close two other charter schools — Granville T. Woods Academy of Innovation and Memphis Delta Prep — under a state law that requires the closure of schools that make the state’s priority list for two consecutive cycles.
But interim Superintendent Toni Williams pulled the item from the agenda early in the meeting. Minutes later, The Commercial Appeal reported the two schools had sued MSCS in Shelby County Chancery Court earlier in the day, alleging the district is using incomplete testing data to substantiate the proposed closures. The first hearing of the case is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Dec. 19, according to the court filing.
This year’s priority list was based on two-year success rates using data from the 2018-19 and 2021-22 school years.
A day before the board vote, charter school leaders came before the board to make their case for staying open.
Two schools — Arrow Academy of Excellence and Memphis Business Academy Hickory Hill Middle School — emphasized that state academic data used as the basis for the district’s recommendations to close the schools, was limited.
Arrow Academy, opened in 2013, serves 95 students in grades K-5 in South Memphis. Memphis Business Academy Hickory Hill Middle serves 54 students in grades 6-8 in the southeastern corner of the district. During the 2018-19 school year, neither school reached the threshold of 30 tests per subject to be included in the state’s accountability measures for that year.
That means the district’s recommendation to close the schools was based solely on test scores from 2021-22.
In their presentations to the board, representatives from both schools emphasized their continued work to improve academic performance in the wake of COVID and pointed to board materials showing they meet the district’s standards for academics, operations, and financial management.
KIPP Memphis officials touted academic improvements at their two schools that were identified as priority schools.
KIPP Memphis Collegiate Middle, which serves just over 200 students in Uptown, improved its academic growth rating on the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System from Level 1 in 2021 to Level 5 in all subjects and its composite score. The school also met the district’s standards for academics, operations, and financial management.
KIPP Memphis Academy Middle, which serves 225 students in North Memphis, also recorded TVAAS improvements from 2021, from a Level 1 composite growth score in 2021 to Level 4 earlier this year. Despite the progress, the school fell just short of meeting the district’s standards for academics, receiving an overall score of 2.93. Board policy recommends that charter schools have a composite score of at least 3 in academics, operations, and finances.
KIPP claimed in a presentation to the board that, if KIPP Memphis Academy Middle closed, about a quarter of its students would be transferred to one of 11 schools in the district that have lower performance ratings.
KIPP officials also trumpeted several new initiatives since Antonio Burt took the helm of the city’s oldest charter network, including restructuring school leadership and staff, providing high-dosage tutoring to grades 1-2, investing up to $5 million on facility improvements, and more.
Samantha West is a reporter for Chalkbeat Tennessee, where she covers K-12 education in Memphis. Connect with Samantha at email@example.com.