Christian Brothers University president John Smarrelli is leading a new charter organization seeking to turn nine private Catholic schools into publicly funded, privately managed charter schools.

Smarrelli is chairman of the board of the new group called New Day Schools. The organization announced Thursday its intent to submit an application to Shelby County Schools to open schools in buildings currently operated by Jubilee Catholic Schools Network. New Day Schools was formed specifically to take over those schools and would not be affiliated with the Catholic Diocese of Memphis or offer religious teaching.

Catholic schools struggling with declining enrollment and finances have turned to charter conversion in other cities as a way to get public funds. The move in Memphis came as state lawmakers declined this year to consider a voucher program, which could have provided state-funded stipends for some students to attend private school.

The private Jubilee network, which opened in 1999 to serve students from low-income families, announced last week plans to close its nine schools, plus another private school that received heavy funding from the network. The diocese said it had enough to pay for the schools through the end of the 2018-19 school year. In all, the schools serve about 1,500 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

If the school board for Shelby County Schools approves the group’s application, current students would be eligible to enroll in the new charter schools but would not be guaranteed a spot. Charter schools enroll students through a lottery.

Though the charter organization would be independent from the diocese, it would still have ties to the Catholic university that Smarrelli leads in Memphis. The board has retained Kristi Baird, Jubilee’s current leader, as executive director to lead New Day Schools. Jubilee officials also have encouraged current teachers to apply for positions at their schools if they open up.

“Our primary goal … is to continue providing an excellent educational experience for the community currently served by Jubilee Catholic Schools, although entirely independent from the Catholic Diocese,” Smarrelli said in a statement. “We look forward to what the future holds for our network and the students and families we hope to soon serve.”

The application, due to Shelby County Schools on April 1, would be the first step of a rigorous process of vetting the proposal. If approved, the schools would reopen as charters in the fall of 2019  and become the city’s largest network of charter schools.

The nine schools would change their name to Compass Community School followed by the name of their neighborhoods.

The founding board members for New Day Schools are:

  • Greg Diaz, executive director, Las Americas;
  • Emily Greer, chief administrative officer, ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital;
  • Marty Petrusek, sales, Trane US Inc.;
  • Richard Potts, associate professor, Christian Brothers University;
  • John Smarrelli, president, Christian Brothers University

Smarrelli also chairs the board for Crosstown High School, which was approved as a charter under Shelby County Schools in 2016. The school is set to open this fall in midtown Memphis with 125 ninth-grade students, eventually growing to 500 across four grades.