From district to charter: The 2014 Memphis school takeover

October 16 marks the beginning of a two-month process to determine which low-performing Memphis and Nashville schools will be taken over by the state-run Achievement School District. Over the next few months, the number of schools that will be taken over and either run by the ASD or turned over to charter school networks will be whittled down to seven. Between now and then, a number of community meetings will take place to allow parents to better understand their options and charter school and district officials to see if the schools should ultimately be taken over. Use this page to learn about the eligible schools, how the process works, which charter networks are involved, and what the ASD is and how it functions. Schools greyed out have been taken off the list of potential takeovers.

What is school takeover?

Over the next few months the state-run Achievement School District will determine which of the 85 Tennessee schools academically ranked in the state’s bottom 5 percent it will take over.

The schools are identified and targeted for school improvement efforts as a condition of Tennessee’s waiver from the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. This year, 59 of those bottom 5 percent schools were in Memphis and 15 in Nashville.

Being taken over by the ASD is the most extreme possibility for a school in the bottom 5 percent: ASD schools are removed from the control of their current school districts altogether and placed under the management of a charter school or the state-run district.

Next year, the ASD will select approximately nine schools in Memphis and one in Nashville to take over in the 2015-16 school year. They’ll join the 21 schools in Memphis and one in Nashville that are already part of this closely-watched effort to improve the lowest-scoring schools in the state.

What is the Achievement School District?

Created by the state’s First to the Top law in 2010 and largely funded by Tennessee’s 2011 federal Race to the Top grant, the Achievement School District is an independent district run by the state of Tennessee.

Its mission is to manage schools in the academic bottom 5 percent of all schools in the state and move them to the top 25 percent within five years.

Currently, the ASD directly runs a group of five schools in Memphis and has authorized charter schools to run the rest. The district plans to maintain a small central office while overseeing various charter authorizers. Charter schools that are not having academic success after three years are eligible to be taken over by yet another charter school.

The ASD’s approach to school improvement was inspired by Louisiana’s Recovery School District, or RSD, which was itself modeled on bankruptcy court: “Failing schools” are removed from their districts and given a fresh start with new management, new teachers, and new educational models. All of the RSD’s schools are now charter schools.

ASD leaders have said that they will likely turn their direct-run schools in Memphis into an independent charter network, allowing their central office to focus mainly as a charter authorizer.

The Achievement School District has attracted national attention for its bold goals, and its track record of attracting well-regarded national charter operators to Tennessee. It has also been the subject of some controversy, as communities have raised concerns about big changes to their schools’ staff and governance. The growth of the ASD also has financial and logistical consequences for traditional districts, as the ASD receives state funds for the students it educates while the traditional district is left with a shrinking pool of students.

Academic results so far have been mixed. The ASD earned a level 5 for student growth—the highest possible score—on the state’s accountability system in 2012-13. In 2013-14, it earned a level 1—the lowest score. In 2013-14, seven of the district’s 17 schools saw significant growth in reading TCAP scores and seven saw growth in math, while five saw drops in each subject.

Comparing the ASD directly to Shelby County Schools or Metro Nashville Public Schools is tricky: Last year, just 12 of its 17 schools could be compared academically to a baseline school (they had either been in the ASD for a year already or had taken over enough grades of a district school that scores could be compared to the previous school). The remaining five schools are being phased in and still only educate students who are too young to take state standardized tests; started from scratch as new charter schools (KIPP); or are alternative programs (Pathways).

The ASD’s executive director is Chris Barbic, a founder of YES Prep, a charter management organization based in Houston.

The ASD isn’t the only effort targeting schools in the bottom 5 percent in the state. Both Shelby County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools have used federal School Improvement grants to start clusters of turnaround schools within their own districts, called “Innovation Zones.” Innovation Zone schools receive extra funds, new staff, and some support and flexibility, but they remain within their original districts.

What is a charter school?

Charter schools in Tennessee are non-profit, publicly-funded but independently-run organizations. Charter schools are held to the same academic standards as other public schools, but have control over their schools’ budget, hiring, curriculum, and schedule—responsibilities traditionally taken care of by a district’s central office. In Tennessee, charter schools are technically part of the school district that authorizes them.

While charter schools in the state were initially only accessible to students who attended schools in the bottom 5 percent in the state, recent changes to state laws mean that any student can now attend a charter school. Charter schools authorized by the ASD, however, can currently only enroll student who attended bottom 5 percent schools.

How do takeover decisions get made?

The traditional school districts and ASD staff currently plan internally which school will be taken over by which charter operator. There has been no public discussion yet about which schools might be taken over by the state.

On October 16, the ASD will announce a list of schools that might be taken over. That will launch a series of community meetings at each affected school, at which ASD officials and leaders from the charter schools that might run the school present information about why the school is eligible for takeover.

They will also describe the charter operators that may soon run the school. In previous years, community members and teachers have attended the meetings to ask questions and raise concerns about the change.

The process is guided by a volunteer council selected by the ASD called the Achievement Advisory Council, or AAC. The council helps facilitate between the district and the communities.

In December the district will announce which charter organization will run which school and which new charters will open. In the past two years, Shelby County Schools has also announced which schools will become part of its school turnaround-focused Innovation Zone at this time.

What happens when a school is taken over?

A school run by the ASD is no longer governed by its former school district. While the building and students zoned to attend it remain the same, the school becomes a new school, run by a charter operator or directly by the ASD. All ASD schools can set their own budget, staff, schedule and programming. Some have retained the name of the school they are taking over, while others have renamed and rebranded their schools.

ASD takeover has taken two forms: Full-school takeover and phase-in. At phase-in schools, a charter school takes over one or several grades at a time while the traditional district still runs a school in the building for the other grades. (For examples, a school might have K-1 grades run by KIPP and 2-5 grades run by Shelby County Schools.) Over time, the phase-in charter school adds grades, eventually running the entire school.

Other schools are taken over all at once by the state-run district or a charter school.

Charter schools that take over schools as part of the ASD must serve students that would be zoned to their school. Charter schools that start from scratch can enroll any student zoned to a bottom 5 percent school.

What happens to a teacher at a takeover school?

Teachers who are interested in remaining at a school building taken over by the ASD must apply for jobs at the school, which is technically a new organization. Salary schedules and career trajectories in the ASD vary from school to school, as each charter organization can set its own rules for staff.

In Memphis, teachers whose schools are taken over can attempt to secure positions at other Shelby County Schools through the district’s voluntary transfer process. According to the district, “If they do not secure a position at another SCS school through the voluntary transfer process, they will become part of the surplus teacher pool. They will be given additional opportunities to find placement after the transfer process by interviewing with principals as vacancies in their subject area arise.”

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What schools could the state take over?

The Achievement School District has identified three schools that will be converted into charters at the start of the 2015-16 school year and nine that could potentially be converted into charters. All 12 schools are in Memphis. The three that will definitely be converted are South Side Middle School, Wooddale Middle School, and Raleigh Egypt High School. Of the remaining nine, six are elementary schools, two are middle schools, and one is a high school.

Madison Middle Prep

  • Number of students enrolled for 2013-2014: 756
  • Percentage of ELL students for 2013-2014: 6.7 %
  • Percentage of economically disadvantaged students for 2013-2014: 88.8%
  • Percentage of special education students: 17.5 %
  • Racial demographic percentages: Black — 64.7%, Hispanic — 17.2% White — 17.2%
  • ELA/Math scores from last four years compared to state averages:

Neely’s Bend Middle Prep

  • Number of students enrolled for 2013-2014: 548
  • Percentage of ELL students for 2013-2014: 14.4 %
  • Percentage of economically disadvantaged students for 2013-2014: 90.7%
  • Percentage of special education students: 12.8 %
  • Racial demographic percentages: Black — 40.7%, Hispanic — 35% White — 22.1 % Asian — 1.1 percent
  • ELA/Math scores from last four years compared to state averages:
  • Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 11.17.57 AM

A. Maceo Walker Middle School

  • Number of students enrolled for 2012-2013: 520
  • Percentage of ELL students for 2012-2013: 4 %
  • Percentage of FRLL students for 2012-2013: 96%
  • Percentage of special education students: 18 %
  • Racial demographic percentages: Black — 95%, Hispanic — 4.8%
  • ELA/Math scores from last four years compared to state averages:
  • maceo

LaRose Elementary

  • Number of students enrolled for 2012-2013: 448
  • Percentage of ELL students for 2012-2013: n/a
  • Percentage of FRLL students for 2012-2013: 96.7%
  • Percentage of special education students:13.6%
  • Racial demographic percentages: Black — 99.3%
  • ELA/Math scores from last four years compared to state averages:
  • larose

Brookmeade Elementary

  • Number of students enrolled for 2012-2013: 283
  • Percentage of ELL students for 2012-2013: n/a
  • Percentage of FRLL students for 2012-2013: 97.5%
  • Percentage of special education students:13.8%
  • Racial demographic percentages: Black — 99.3%
  • ELA/Math scores from last four years compared to state averages:
  • brookmeade

Florida-Kansas Elementary

  • Number of students enrolled for 2012-2013: 316
  • Percentage of ELL students for 2012-2013: n/a
  • Percentage of FRLL students for 2012-2013: 96.2%
  • Percentage of special education students: 17.7%
  • Racial demographic percentages: Black — 100%
  • ELA/Math scores from last four years compared to state averages:
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Hawkins Mill Elementary

  • Number of students enrolled for 2012-2013: 383
  • Percentage of ELL students for 2012-2013:N/A
  • Percentage of FRLL students for 2012-2013: 99%
  • Percentage of special education students:12.3%
  • Racial demographic percentages: Black — 99.3%
  • ELA/Math scores from last four years compared to state averages:
  • hawkins

Raleigh Egypt High School

Raleigh Egypt High School was removed from the takeover list.

  • Number of students enrolled for 2012-2013: 844
  • Percentage of ELL students for 2012-2013: 2.7%
  • Percentage of FRLL students for 2012-2013: 91.1%
  • Percentage of special education students: 12.8%
  • Racial demographic percentages: Black — 92.5%, Hispanic — 6.5%
  • ELA/Math scores from last four years compared to state averages:
  • raleigh

Wooddale Middle

  • Number of students enrolled for 2012-2013: 836
  • Percentage of ELL students for 2012-2013: 7.8%
  • Percentage of FRLL students for 2012-2013: 91.4%
  • Percentage of special education students: 14.2%
  • Racial demographic percentages: Black — 87.3%, Hispanic — 10.6%, Asian — 1.8%
  • ELA/Math scores from last four years compared to state averages:
  • wooddale

Airways Middle

  • Number of students enrolled for 2012-2013: 311
  • Percentage of ELL students for 2012-2013: n/a
  • Percentage of FRLL students for 2012-2013: 95.5%
  • Percentage of special education students: 20.9%
  • Racial demographic percentages: Black — 96.1%
  • ELA/Math scores from last four years compared to state averages:
  • airways

A.B. Hill Elementary

After the two charter networks that could have taken over A.B. Hill pulled out of the takeover process, A.B. Hill was removed from the takeover list. Read more here.

  • Number of students enrolled for 2012-2013: 406
  • Percentage of ELL students for 2012-2013: n/a
  • Percentage of FRLL students for 2012-2013: 98.3%
  • Percentage of special education students: 24.9%
  • Racial demographic percentages: Black — 99.8%
  • ELA/Math scores from last four years compared to state averages:
  • ab

Denver Elementary

  • Number of students enrolled for 2012-2013: 619
  • Percentage of ELL students for 2012-2013: n/a
  • Percentage of FRLL students for 2012-2013: 94.3%
  • Percentage of special education students: 10.3%
  • Racial demographic percentages: Black — 95.3%, Hispanic: 1.6%, White — 2.4%
  • ELA/Math scores from last four years compared to state averages:
  • denver

South Side Middle

After the two charter networks that could have taken over South Side Middle pulled out of the takeover process, South Side Middle was removed from the takeover list. Read more here.

  • Number of students enrolled for 2012-2013: 312
  • Percentage of ELL students for 2012-2013: n/a
  • Percentage of FRLL students for 2012-2013: 97.8
  • Percentage of special education students: 22.4
  • Racial demographic percentages: Black — 100%
  • ELA/Math scores from last four years compared to state averages:
  • south

American Way Middle

  • Number of students enrolled for 2012-2013: 740
  • Percentage of ELL students for 2012-2013: 9.7
  • Percentage of FRLL students for 2012-2013: 98
  • Percentage of special education students: 19.6
  • Racial demographic percentages: Black — 88.8%, Hispanic — 10.6%
  • ELA/Math scores from last four years compared to state averages:
  • american

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Which charters could take over the schools?

The Achievement School District has approved seven charter operators to open schools in Memphis in 2015-16. The schools include national charter management organizations with long track records and brand-new schools founded in Memphis. The charter schools will either take over an entire school (Full-school transformation), or take over a grade at a time (Phase-in).

Below, find background on each of the charter organizations.

LEAD Public Schools

  • Charter school / CMO name: Lead Public Schools
  • Home state: Tennessee
  • Existing schools in Tennessee: Brick Church College Prep, Cameron College Prep, LEAD Academy Middle, LEAD Academy High, LEAD Prep Southeast
  • Schools planned for 2015-16: Neely’s Bend Middle Prep or Madison Middle Prep
  • Model (takeover, transformation or new start): LEAD will transform the school it’s paired with grade-by-grade.
  • School mission: “LEAD Public Schools exists to support, educate, and train the next generation of responsible citizens.”
  • Brief summary of educational model: “In order to ensure that every student is college-ready by the end of 12th grade, LEAD Public Schools requires all students to attend an extended school day and school year. Because most of our fifth graders come to LEAD Public Schools performing below grade-level, additional time during the school day is dedicated to strategic interventions in order to guarantee that students are able to meet academic standards.”
  • Website / contact information: http://www.leadpublicschools.org

YES Prep

  • Charter school / CMO name: YES Prep
  • Home state: Texas
  • Other affiliated schools in Tennessee: NONE
  • Schools planned for 2015-16: Two middle schools
  • Model (Phase-in, new start, whole school): Phase-in
  • School mission: “YES Prep Public Schools exists to increase the number of students from underserved communities who graduate from a four-year college prepared to compete in the global marketplace and committed to improving disadvantaged communities.”
  • Brief summary of educational model: http://www.yesprep.org/vision/educational-model
  • Website / contact information: http://www.yesprep.org/

Scholar Academies

  • Charter school / CMO name: Scholar Academies
  • Home state: Pennsylvania
  • Other affiliated schools in Tennessee: None
  • Schools being considered for 2015-16: LaRose Elementary, Florida-Kansas Elementary
  • Likely location of schools (city/neighborhood): Memphis
  • Model (Phase-in, new start, whole school): Transformation
  • School mission: “To transform low-performing neighborhood schools so that every child has the knowledge and character to pursue the path to college and opportunities beyond.”
  • Brief summary of educational model: N/A
  • Website / contact information: scholaracademies.org

Freedom Prep

    Freedom Prep withdrew from the takeover process because of concerns about its capacity to manage more schools. Read more here.

  • Charter school / CMO name: Freedom Prep
  • Home state: Tennessee
  • Other affiliated schools in Tennessee: Freedom Prep Middle, Freedom Prep High, Freedom Prep Elementary (Westwood)
  • Schools being considered for 2015-16: AB Hill Elementary
  • Location: Memphis
  • Model (takeover, transformation or new start): Phase-In
  • School mission: “Freedom Preparatory Academy prepares students to excel in college and in life. We accomplish our mission of college preparation through a highly structured, academically rigorous environment where students master the core subjects, develop advanced academic skills and demonstrate the school’s core values of Respect, Responsibility, Integrity, Excellence, and Community. Our focus is a clear, strategic and direct path to college for every student that enters our doors.”
  • Brief summary of educational model: “A strong, structured, and strict academic culture of high expectations.”
  • Website / contact information: http://www.freedomprep.org/

Capstone Education Group

  • Charter school / CMO name: Capstone Education Group
  • Home state: Tennessee
  • Other affiliated schools in Tennessee: Cornerstone Prep and Lester Elementary
  • Schools being considered for 2015-16: Hawkins Mill Elementary, Denver Elementary
  • Location: Memphis
  • Model (takeover, transformation or new start): New Start or Phase-In
  • School mission: “To equip all students with the Wisdom and Knowledge necessary to succeed in college and to become leaders in their community.”
  • Educational model: http://cornerstoneprepmemphis.org/ourapproach
  • Website/contact information: http://cornerstoneprepmemphis.org/

KIPP Memphis

    KIPP withdrew from the takeover process because of concerns about its capacity to manage more schools. Read more here.

  • Charter school / CMO name: KIPP Memphis
  • Home state: Tennessee, part of national network
  • Existing schools in Tennessee: KIPP: Memphis Academy Elementary; KIPP: Memphis Collegiate Elementary; KIPP: Memphis University Middle: KIPP:Memphis Preparatory Middle; KIPP: Memphis Academy Middle; KIPP: Memphis Collegiate Middle; KIPP:Memphis Collegiate High
  • Schools planned for 2015-16: South Side Middle
  • Location: Memphis
  • Model (takeover, transformation or new start): Phase-In
  • School mission: “The mission of KIPP MEMPHIS is to create high performing schools in the Memphis community that will equip all students with the necessary academic and life skills needed to succeed through college and the competitive world beyond.”
  • Brief summary of educational model: http://www.kippmemphis.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=239378&type=d
  • Website/contact information: http://www.kippmemphis.org/

Green Dot Public Schools

  • Charter school / CMO name: Green Dot Public Schools
  • Home state: California
  • Existing schools in Tennessee: Fairley High School (2013-14)
  • Schools planned for 2015-16: Wooddale Middle, Raleigh Egypt
  • Model (takeover, transformation or new start): Full Transformation
  • School mission: “Green Dot’s mission is to help transform public education so ALL students graduate prepared for college, leadership and life.”
  • Brief summary of educational model: “Green Dot’s academic model is designed to meet individual student needs, combining a rigorous curriculum with the academic counseling and support students need to succeed.”
  • Website / contact information: http://www.greendot.org/page.cfm?p=4192
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The Libertas School

  • Charter school / CMO name: The Libertas School
  • Home state: Tennessee
  • Existing schools in Tennessee: NONE
  • Schools being considered for 2015-16: Hawkins Mill Elementary, Brookmeade Elementary
  • Model (takeover, transformation or new start): New Start or Phase-In
  • Brief summary of educational model: A Montessori school with some inspiration from No Excuses
  • Website / contact information: https://twitter.com/LibertasMemphis

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How can I get involved?

Here are a few ways to have your voice heard during the state takeover process.

Contact the council

The Achievement Advisory Council is a group of 24 community members who are partly responsible for helping decide which schools will be taken over by the Achievement School District. You can read more about who is serving on the board here, and contact the board using the following information:

  • E-mail: [email protected]
  • Phone: 901-410-0342
  • Twitter: @aacmemphis

Read Chalkbeat’s coverage

Visit this page to view all our latest coverage on the state takeover process