Update Jan. 7, 2020: Gestalt Community Schools withdrew its appeal to the state Board of Education saying, “Our goal is to continue to work with our long-time partner, Shelby County Schools, to seek more viable options for the future.”
A Memphis charter network is appealing Shelby County Schools’ decision to shrink its elementary school enrollment by nearly a fifth.
A successful appeal to the state Board of Education would mean the school could keep the spots for 135 students and avoid reducing its incoming class or telling some students they no longer have a spot at the school.
Earlier this month, school board members cited Power Center Academy Elementary School’s low performance on state tests and a new district policy in their denial of its request to expand.
The elementary school is run by Memphis-based Gestalt Community Schools, which operates five schools. The network’s CEO Yetta Lewis said in her appeal that the school is already showing signs of improvement on practice state tests. She blamed last year’s decline on a “change in leadership, extremely novice staff, and misalignment of curriculum, which we are addressing moving forward.”
She also noted that the network had just completed renovations this summer at its Hickory Hill facility to expand the elementary school’s capacity and open up to 100 spots to reduce their waiting list. The district’s own neighborhood analysis showed that Hickory Hill needs about 2,000 more seats for elementary school students in one of the fastest growing areas of the city.
Lewis said she hopes the state will consider the precarious situation charter schools find themselves in as the district implements the new policy, which considers school performance before allowing expansion. In the past, the district did not flag charter schools that exceeded the anticipated enrollment outlined in their contracts with the district. When the board approved changes to the policy last summer governing expansion, school registration was already well underway.
“We believe the removal of students for the next school year is not in the best interests of the students, families, or community,” she said. “We also believe the lack of a school district policy for charter amendments and/or enforcement of an amendment policy prior to July 2019 should be taken into consideration regarding our appeal.”
The state board will schedule a hearing in Memphis before a vote in the next two months. The school board also denied requests to expand at two charter schools run by Memphis Business Academy. That network’s CEO Anthony Anderson said he would not appeal to the state, but would submit an amended request to Shelby County Schools in January.