There has been a lot of chatter about the fate of low-performing schools in Nashville, and the Achievement School District’s potential involvement in turning those schools around.
The number of Metro Nashville schools on a list of low-performers released by the state Department of Education more than doubled this year, signaling that the ASD would be accelerating its growth in Nashville. ASD superintendent Chris Barbic even wrote an editorial paving the way for smooth relations between the Nashville community and his district, which can overhaul the faculty, staff, and governance of the state’s lowest performing schools.
Predictions of a swift expansion in Nashville aren’t unwarranted. The ASD grew from six schools in 2012 to 22 schools this year, and officials plan to open or take over nine more schools by the 2015-16 school year. Of those 22 schools, only one, Brick Church College Prep, is in Nashville. The rest are in Memphis.
Here are five things to know about what the expansion in Nashville will look like:
1) The ASD is only taking over one school in Nashville next year. Metro Nashville’s number of priority schools more than doubled, from six schools in 2012 to 15 this year. In contrast, Shelby County Schools actually saw a decrease in priority schools, from 69 to 59. But, because of the limited number of organizations authorized by the ASD to open schools in Nashville, the district’s capitol expansion will still be tempered.
“It’s just a question of putting quality over scale and working with that charter operator and making sure they’re growing at the right pace, the pace that’s right for them,” Smalley said.
In February, the ASD will open up applications for charter organizations. More organizations might apply to open schools in Nashville, Smalley said, which means Nashville might see more ASD schools in the coming years. The ASD will approve operators in June.
Smalley said one possible reason for the relative dearth of organizations interested in partnering with the ASD in Nashville is the lack of a local philanthropic community working to attract charter networks.
2) LEAD will be the only charter organization to expand in Nashville this year.
LEAD Public Schools is the default choice to continue the district’s expansion in Nashville because the ASD has only authorized three charter management organizations to take over or open schools in Nashville. The other two eligible operators, KIPP and Rocketship, are not focusing on opening more schools with the ASD at this time, Smalley said. Last month, Rocketship officials told Chalkbeat that they would prefer to open schools with the Metro Nashville Public Schools, in part because state law limits enrollment at ASD schools to students who are zoned to priority schools, which are academically in the bottom five percent of schools statewide.
LEAD currently operates four schools in Nashville: LEAD Academy, Brick Church, Cameron College Prep Academy, and LEAD Prep Southeast.
3) It hasn’t yet been decided whether LEAD will take over a priority school in East Nashville.
East Nashville has the highest concentration of priority schools in Nashville, and its residents have organized a political action committee, called East Nashville United, in protest of Metro Nashville’s plan to turnaround or close those schools. Earlier this month director of schools Jesse Register announced a plan to close one or two as-of-yet unnamed schools in the area, convert some schools to charters, and eliminate residential zones, making East Nashville an all-choice zone. The members of East Nashville United say there needs to be more community input in the plan. Three of LEAD’s schools are in West Nashville.
4) The matching process in Nashville might look different than it does in Memphis.
The ASD is gearing up for its matching process in Memphis, which involves a series of community meetings and conversations with Shelby County Schools officials to determine which schools will be taken over or created, and which charter operators will take over those schools. The matching process in Nashville has not yet been defined, Smalley said, but it will look different, since community members don’t have multiple operators to choose from. ASD and LEAD officials are still in discussions with Metro Nashville Public Schools about the priority schools LEAD might want to work with.
5) The ASD has a good track record in Nashville, although it’s limited to one school.The ASD’s results overall have been mixed, but its Nashville school has done well. Brick Church College Prep saw the largest test score gains in the ASD this year — more than 20 percentage points each in reading and math. A common criticism of charter schools is that they underserve special education populations, but more than 30 percent of Brick Church’s students are classified as special education students, far above the percentage of special education students in the state, which hovers around 13 percent.
Know something about the expansion in Nashville that we don’t? Tell us in the comments.
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*Correction: Because of an editing error, this story originally misstated the number of charter organizations eligible to expand in Nashville. LEAD is one of three charter networks eligible to expand.