The Shelby County Schools board voted unanimously Tuesday to spare three troubled charter schools from closure, breaking with district staff that recommended the schools be shuttered based on a new policy meant to hold charters accountable for academic performance.

About 900 students would have been searching for new schools in Memphis this fall if the board had voted to close Memphis Business Academy Middle, Memphis College Preparatory Elementary, and Veritas College Preparatory. Instead, the board approved a 10-year renewal, though state law allows the district to take action sooner if the charter schools don’t improve fast enough. 

In a separate vote, the board of Shelby County Schools stuck with staff recommendations in approving 10-year renewals for four other charters: Southern Avenue Elementary, Promise Academy Hollywood, Soulsville Charter School, and Memphis School of Excellence.

The board’s united front in sparing the three schools staring down closure is significant: The charter renewal votes are the first since district and charter school leaders finally settled on a new charter school policy after years of negotiations. 

Though district staff used the policy to recommend closing the three schools, board members cited other factors in reaching their decisions. 

“None of us are doing the work we really want to do, but we understand this urban work it’s holistic,” Anthony Anderson, CEO of the Memphis Business Academy charter school network, said after the vote. “It’s about academics, but it’s also about building confidence.”

People show support for one of the charter schools originally recommended for closure. The school board unanimously voted to keep them open.
PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat

Charter operators disputed some of the district’s findings, which mostly used state test scores over the last 10 years to recommend which charter schools to keep open.

Some charter leaders said during their hearings earlier this month that the board should consider that they have helped parents find jobs, invested millions in commercial development including a medical clinic, and are even working to build houses to support school families.

About a dozen parents, staff, and students from the schools recommended for closure spoke to the school board.

“They care about us and our education our well-being. I need them,” said Amya Faulkner, an eighth-grader at Veritas College Preparatory.

“If they close down our school, where are we going to go?” her twin, Diamond Faulkner, said.

Stephanie Love, a school board member whose district includes Memphis Business Academy Middle, said network leaders “understand now what their challenges are and what they need to do,” and cited state law that allows the board to close them if their test scores drop, even before the schools are eligible for renewal again in 10 years.

“They got a victory with us today, but if they don’t meet that, they’ll be closed,” Love said after the meeting. “This is a lesson to all schools that we have challenges, so it shouldn’t be about us versus them because on any given day, a child could leave an SCS school and enter a charter school,” and vice versa.

Tyree Daniels, a board member for Memphis College Prep, said he was “jubilant” at the board’s vote. The school opened 10 years ago in Uptown but moved to the Alcy Ball neighborhood three years ago. He said the school is still recovering academically from that transition, but has seen progress.

“The board is giving us more time to do the work we have set out to do,” he said.