Warning List

Is your school in Tennessee’s bottom 10 percent? Here’s a list of 166 schools the state says need to improve

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn

Struggling Tennessee schools will find out this fall if they’ll face consequences for scoring academically in the state’s bottom 5 percent.

The State Department of Education is scheduled to release its long-awaited “priority list” for the first time since 2014, identifying schools that will be eligible for some level of intervention.

But first, the department has issued a warning list to let schools in the bottom 10 percent know where they stand. The so-called “cusp list” of 166 schools is based on standardized test results for 2016-17 and, for high schools, state, and ACT test results.

Here are three things to know about the warning list, followed by the list itself.

1) The state’s turnaround district is struggling to move schools out of the bottom 5 percent, while the Innovation Zone in Memphis is having some success.  

More than half of the Achievement School District’s 32 schools fall in the bottom percentile, including the six that were first taken over by the state-run district in 2012 with the goal of turning them around in five years. Of that initial group, Brick Church College Preparatory in Nashville moved out of the priority threshold two years ago — but is back in the bottom 5 percent on the latest warning list. A bright spot is Georgian Hills Achievement Elementary in Memphis, which not only left the bottom 5 percent but moved out of the bottom tenth. In 2016, Georgian Hills was in the worst 2 percent of schools.

The iZone, another turnaround initiative started in 2012 through Shelby County Schools, has three out of its original eight Memphis schools moving out of the bottom 10 percent: Ford Road Elementary, Douglass K-8 and Chickasaw Middle.

2) The priority school range has fewer schools in Memphis and more in Nashville this time around.

Of the 166 schools on the latest list, Shelby County Schools has 26 schools ranked in the bottom 5 percent, compared to 43 on the last cusp list in 2016. However, of the state’s ten worst-performing schools, six are overseen by the Memphis district, including three charters run by the W.E.B. DuBois Consortium of Charter Schools, founded by former Memphis City Schools Superintendent Willie Herenton.

Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools saw an uptick of schools in the lowest percentile: 21 schools in the bottom 5 percent, up from 15 schools on the 2016 list.

Still, Nashville, Memphis and state districts dominate the bottom 5 percent, followed by Chattanooga with eight schools and Jackson with three. Knox, Fayette, Maury, Sumner, and Cumberland county districts all have one school each.

3) This isn’t the official priority list, but it’s a good indicator. Here’s what happens to schools that stay in the bottom 5 percent.

While schools on the priority list used to be automatically eligible for state takeover by the Achievement School District, that’s no longer the case under Tennessee’s new school improvement plan developed in response to a 2016 federal law. Tennessee has broadened its scope of possible interventions, making state takeover by the ASD a path of last resort. In most cases, the state’s new office of school improvement will work with local districts to craft their plans, which will then be monitored by the state.

Charter schools are the exception. State law mandates that districts shutter ones that make the priority list. Based on the warning list, eight charters authorized by Shelby County Schools could be in danger if they don’t significantly improve their state scores this spring, while none in Nashville are.

The list below is searchable by 2017 percentile rank, school name, and district.

Schools on the 2017 Cusp List

*Clinch River Community School and The Excel Center are no longer considered to be on the cusp list given classification changes.

Mapping a Turnaround

This is what the State Board of Education hopes to order Adams 14 to do

PHOTO: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post
Javier Abrego, superintendent of Adams 14 School District on April 17, 2018.

In Colorado’s first-ever attempt to give away management of a school district, state officials Thursday provided a preview of what the final order requiring Adams 14 to give up district management could include.

The State Board of Education is expected to approve its final directives to the district later this month.

Thursday, after expressing a lack of trust in district officials who pleaded their case, the state board asked the Attorney General’s office for advice and help in drafting a final order detailing how the district is to cede authority, and in what areas.

Colorado has never ordered an external organization to take over full management of an entire district.

Among details discussed Thursday, Adams 14 will be required to hire an external manager for at least four years. The district will have 90 days to finalize a contract with an external manager. If it doesn’t, or if the contract doesn’t meet the state’s guidelines, the state may pull the district’s accreditation, which would trigger dissolution of Adams 14.

State board chair Angelika Schroeder said no one wants to have to resort to that measure.

But districts should know, the state board does have “a few more tools in our toolbox,” she said.

In addition, if they get legal clearance, state board members would like to explicitly require the district:

  • To give up hiring and firing authority, at least for at-will employees who are administrators, but not teachers, to the external manager.
    When State Board member Steve Durham questioned the Adams 14 school board President Connie Quintana about this point on Wednesday, she made it clear she was not interested in giving up this authority.
  • To give up instructional, curricular, and teacher training decisions to the external manager.
  • To allow the new external manager to decide if there is value in continuing the existing work with nonprofit Beyond Textbooks.
    District officials have proposed they continue this work and are expanding Beyond Textbooks resources to more schools this year. The state review panel also suggested keeping the Beyond Textbooks partnership, mostly to give teachers continuity instead of switching strategies again.
  • To require Adams 14 to seek an outside manager that uses research-based strategies and has experience working in that role and with similar students.
  • To task the external manager with helping the district improve community engagement.
  • To be more open about their progress.
    The state board wants to be able to keep track of how things are going. State board member Rebecca McClellan said she would like the state board and the department’s progress monitor to be able to do unannounced site visits. Board member Jane Goff asked for brief weekly reports.
  • To allow the external manager to decide if the high school requires additional management or other support.
  • To allow state education officials, and/or the state board, to review the final contract between the district and its selected manager, to review for compliance with the final order.

Facing the potential for losing near total control over his district, Superintendent Javier Abrego Thursday afternoon thanked the state board for “honoring our request.”

The district had accepted the recommendation of external management and brought forward its own proposal — but with the district retaining more authority.

Asked about the ways in which the state board went above and beyond the district’s proposal, such as giving the outside manager the authority to hire and fire administrative staff, Abrego did not seem concerned.

“That has not been determined yet,” he said. “That will all be negotiated.”

The state board asked that the final order include clear instructions about next steps if the district failed to comply with the state’s order.

Changing fortune

Late votes deliver a narrow win for Jeffco school bond measure

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Voters in Jefferson County narrowly approved a $567 million bond request that will allow the school district to improve its buildings.

Jeffco Measure 5B, the bond request, initially appeared to have failed, even as voters supported Measure 5A, a $33 million mill levy override, a type of local property tax increase, by a comfortable margin. But as late votes continued to be counted between Election Day and today, the gap narrowed — and then the tally flipped.

With all ballots counted — including overseas and military ballots and ballots from voters who had to resolve signature problems — the bond measure had 50.3 percent of the vote and a comfortable 1,500 vote margin.

In 2016, Jeffco voters turned down both a mill levy override and a bond request. Current Superintendent Jason Glass, who was hired after the ballot failure, made efforts in the last year to engage community members who don’t have children in the district on the importance of school funding. This year’s bond request was even larger than the $535 million ask that voters rejected two years ago.

“We are incredibly thankful to our voters and the entire Jeffco community for supporting our schools,” Glass said in a statement. “The 5A and 5B funding will dramatically impact the learning environment for all of our students. Starting this year, we will be able to better serve our students, who in turn will better serve our communities and the world.”

The money will be used to add new classrooms and equip them, improve security at school buildings, and add career and technical education facilities.