charter chatter

Here’s who wants to open charter schools in Memphis in 2018

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Memphis has more charter schools than any other Tennessee city, and now 14 groups are vying to add to the growing sector through Shelby County Schools.

This year’s crop of applicants wants to open schools that range from an all-girls program to a sports academy to several focused on science, technology, engineering and math.

All but one operator are locally based, and two are trying again after being turned down last year. Half already run charter schools through the Memphis district.

Charter schools are publicly funded schools with private governance and the autonomy to innovate in an effort to drive up the quality of education. In this year’s invitation to open charter schools in the fall of 2018, the district asked applicants to focus on literacy and college readiness.

The district already oversees 45 charter schools that educate about 12 percent of its students, many of whom are black and live in poverty. Last year, the board approved seven of 13 applicants, while one that was rejected appealed to the state and won.

The Memphis district has been grappling with how to better manage its burgeoning charter sector and has committed to supporting high achievers and closing low performers.

These applicants will learn by the end of August whether they’ll get the green light from Shelby County’s school board:

  • The 100 Black Men of Memphis Inc. wants to add fifth grade to its middle school campus in Raleigh at Memphis Academy of Health Sciences.
  • Believe Memphis Academy, a college preparatory school with a focus on literacy, would serve students in grades 4-8 in the city’s medical district. It would be directed by Danny Song, a fellow at Building Excellent Schools, who has held administrative positions with several charter operators and alternative teacher preparation programs.
  • The Destiny House seeks to open an all-girls Rich ED Academy of Leaders, or REAL, to serve grades 6-9 in downtown, Uptown and Harbor Town with a focus on project-based learning and leadership in government and business. It would be directed by LaShundra Richmond, a pastor at Covenant Church Memphis and lead instructor at HopeWorks with a background in teaching, community organizing and education consulting.
  • Empowerment Academy Inc. wants to open an elementary school with a STEM focus in Hickory Hill and would be led by Brenshevia Baker, now a paralegal at Collierville Law Firm.
  • Frayser Community Schools proposes to open Coretta Scott King Middle School, which would be its third school in Memphis but its first under Shelby County Schools. The Frayser school would have gender-specific classrooms led by Marcus Shead, now assistant principal at the high school operated by Frayser under the state-run Achievement School District.
  • Freedom Preparatory Academy seeks to open Freedom Preparatory Academy Charter School, eventually serving grades 6-12 in the Whitehaven and Nonconnah areas as a college preparatory school under the leadership of Larry Thompson, now dean of STEM academics for the charter operator.
  • Glory Tabernacle Christian Church is a repeat applicant seeking to open “The” Academy All Girls Charter elementary school in midtown or northeast Memphis with an emphasis on literacy. It would be led by Clarice Loggins, now a second-grade teacher at Rozelle Elementary School.
  • Golden Gate Development Corp. seeks to open STAR Academy College Preparatory Middle School as the operator’s second school. It would be based in Raleigh/Frayser with a focus on project-based learning in STEM subjects.
  • Learn4Life seeks to open Flex High School of Tennessee as an alternative school based in North Memphis. It would be the first Tennessee school for the California-based operator. With individualized flexible scheduling, the focus would be on students ages 17 to 19 who have an average reading level at or below sixth grade.
  • The LeFlore Foundation is a repeat applicant seeking to open The Gentleman and Ladies Academy School in Cordova to serve grades K-5 with an emphasis on STEM. The foundation already operates a pre-K and after-school program.
  • Love Fellowship Ministries Inc. seeks to open Pride Academy-School of Professional Development elementary school in Germantown with a focus on financial education and leadership based on the LEAD Program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
  • Perea Elementary School Inc. seeks to open an elementary school that would be fed by its pre-K program housed at Klondike Elementary, which soon will be closed by the Achievement School District. The school would focus on social-emotional learning and include a parenting center.
  • Read Foundation seeks to open three schools: an elementary, middle and high school in Raleigh focused on STEM education. They would become the north campus of Memphis School of Excellence.
  • Supremacy Sports Inc. seeks to open Supremacy Sports Academy in Raleigh to focus on sports management, marketing and medicine for grades 6-8, expanding eventually through grade 12. It would be led by DePaula A. Glover Ross, currently at Methodist Le Bonheur.

Reporter Caroline Bauman contributed to this report.

Correction: April 25, 2017: A previous version of this story misidentified which district has previously authorized schools operated by Frayser Community Schools.

hurdle cleared

Indiana’s federally required education plan wins approval

PHOTO: Courtesy of the Indiana Department of Education
State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick greets elementary school students in Decatur Township.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has signed off on Indiana’s federally required education plan, ushering in another era of changes — although not exactly major ones — to the state’s public school system.

The U.S Department of Education announced the plan’s approval on Friday. Like other states, Indiana went through an extensive process to craft a blueprint to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which was signed into law in 2015.

“Today is a great day for Indiana,” state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick said in a statement. “Our ESSA plan reflects the input and perspective of many stakeholders in communities across our state. From the beginning, we set out to build a plan that responded to the needs of Hoosier students. From our clear accountability system to our innovative, locally-driven approach to school improvement, our ESSA plan was designed to support student success.”

The federal government highlighted two aspects of Indiana’s plan. One is a pledge to close achievement gaps separating certain groups of students, such as racial and ethnic groups, from their peers by 50 percent by 2023.

Another is a staple of other states’ plans, as well: adding new ways for measuring how ready students are for attending college or starting their careers. Indiana education officials and lawmakers have made this a priority over the past several years, culminating in a new set of graduation requirements the Indiana State Board of Education approved late last year.

Under Indiana’s plan, high schoolers’ readiness will be measured not just by tests but also by performance in advanced courses and earning dual credits or industry certifications. Elementary school students will be measured in part by student attendance and growth in student attendance over time. Test scores and test score improvement still play a major role in how all schools are rated using state A-F letter grades.

In all, 35 states’ ESSA plans have won federal approval.

Advocates hope the law will bring more attention to the country’s neediest children and those most likely to be overlooked — including English-learners and students with disabilities.

Indiana officials struggled to bring some state measures in line with federal laws, such as graduation requirements and diplomas.

Under the state’s ESSA plan, A-F grades would include these measures (see weights here):

  • Academic achievement in the form of state test scores.
  • Test score improvement.
  • Graduation rate and a measure of “college and career readiness” for high schools.
  • Academic progress of English-language learners, measured by the WIDA test.
  • At least one aspect of school quality. For now, that will be chronic absenteeism, but the state hopes to pursue student and teacher surveys.

The last two are new to Indiana, but represent ESSA’s goal of being more inclusive and, in the case of chronic absenteeism, attempting to value other measures that aren’t test scores.

Because the Indiana State Board of Education passed its own draft A-F rules earlier this month — rules that deviate from the state ESSA plan — it’s possible Hoosier schools could get two sets of letter grades going forward, muddying the initial intent of the simple A-F grade concept parents and community members are familiar with.

The state board’s A-F changes include other measures, such as a “well-rounded” measure for elementary schools that is calculated based on science and social studies tests and an “on-track” measure for high schools that is calculated based on credits and freshman-year grades. Neither component is part of  the state’s federal plan. The state board plan also gets rid of the test score improvement measure for high-schoolers.

While that A-F proposal is preliminary, if approved it would go into effect for schools in 2018-19.

The state can still make changes to its ESSA plan, and the state board’s A-F draft is also expected to see revisions after public comment. But the fact that they conflict now could create difficulties moving forward, and it has led to tension during state board meetings. Already, the state expected schools would see two years of A-F grades in 2018. If both plans move forward as is, that could continue beyond next year.

Read: Will Indiana go through with a ‘confusing’ plan that could mean every school winds up with two A-F grades?

Find more of our coverage of the Every Student Succeeds Act here.

turnaround

Aurora recommends interventions in one elementary school, while another gets more time

Students during PE class at Lyn Knoll Elementary School in 2016 in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Aurora school district officials on Tuesday will recommend turning over management of some operations at one of their elementary schools to an outside management company.

The school, Lyn Knoll Elementary, is located in northwest Aurora near 2nd Avenue and Peoria Street and serves a high number of students from low-income families, with 4 percent of students identified as homeless. The school was one of three Aurora schools that earned the lowest rating from the state in 2017.

That rating automatically flags the school under a district process for school interventions. The process directs district officials to consider a number of possible improvement plans, including closure or turning the school over to a charter school.

Lyn Knoll has had good rankings in recent years before slipping dramatically in the past year, a change that put it on the turnaround list. The district did not recommend intervening at Paris Elementary, even though that school has been in priority improvement for years and will face state sanctions if it has one more year without improvement.

Annual ratings for Lyn Knoll Elementary

  • 2010: Improvement
  • 2011: Improvement
  • 2012: Performance
  • 2013: Improvement
  • 2014: Priority Improvement
  • 2016: Performance
  • 2017: Turnaround
Colorado Department of Education

The board will discuss the recommendation on Tuesday and vote on the school’s fate next month. In November, four union-backed board members who have been critical of charter schools won a majority role on the district’s school board. This will be their first major decision since taking a seat on the board.

In September, Superintendent Rico Munn had told the school board that among January’s school improvement recommendations, the one for Paris would be “the most high-profile.” A month later the district put out a request for information, seeking ideas to improve Aurora schools.

But in a board presentation released Friday, district officials didn’t give much attention to Paris. Instead, they will let Paris continue its rollout of an innovation plan approved two years ago. Officials have said they are hopeful the school will show improvements.

The recommendation for Lyn Knoll represents more drastic change, and it’s the only one that would require a board vote.

The district recommendation calls for replacing the current principal, drafting a contract for an outside company to help staff with training and instruction, and creating a plan to help recruit more students to the school.

Documents show district officials considered closing Lyn Knoll because it already has low and decreasing enrollment with just 238 current students. Those same documents note that while officials are concerned about the school’s trends, it has not had a long history of low ratings to warrant a closure.

In considering a charter school conversion, documents state that there is already a saturation of charter schools in that part of the city, and the community is interested in “the existence of a neighborhood school.” Two charter networks, however, did indicate interest in managing the school, the documents state.
The district recommendation would also include stripping the school’s current status as a pilot school.

Lyn Knoll and other schools labeled pilot schools in Aurora get some internal district autonomy under a program created more than 10 years ago by district and union officials.

Because Lyn Knoll is a pilot school, a committee that oversees that program also reviewed the school and made its own recommendation, which is different from the district’s.

In their report, committee members explained that while they gave the school low marks, they want the school to maintain pilot status for another year as long as it follows guidance on how to improve.

Among the observations in the committee’s report: The school doesn’t have an intervention program in place for students who need extra help in math, families are not engaged, and there has not been enough training for teachers on the new state standards.

The report also highlights the school’s daily physical education for students and noted that the school’s strength was in the school’s governance model that allowed teachers to feel involved in decision making.

Read the full committee report below.