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    ASD announces charter matches for 6 more Memphis schools

    Jane Roberts

    Chris Barbic


    For the first time in the city’s history, two high schools — Frayser and Fairley — will be run by charter schools.
    Charters next year will also take over all or portions of three elementary schools — Coleman, Spring Hill and Westwood — putting them in position to call the shots at schools that until now have been run by a publicly elected school board.
    The Achievement School District announced the charter matches Thursday in a room crowded with applauding parents and community groups at The Streets Ministries on Vance.
    “This isn’t just about getting off the list. Getting off the bottom five percent is not the goal. What this is about is creating opportunity,” ASD Supt. Chris Barbic told the crowd, which burst into sustained applause several times as he named the matches. “We want to be building schools where every parent in this room would be proud to send their kids. We are not there yet, but that’s our goal.”
    The ASD is the state’s effort to permanently improve the 83 schools that persistently rank in the bottom 5 percent; 68 of them are in Memphis. The new school district opened in the 2012-2013 school year with five schools here and one in Nashville.
    The growth since has been all in Memphis where the ASD today runs six schools in Frayser and is responsible for nine others it runs through charter partners. Combined, it has 4,500 students and is the largest charter school operator in the state.
    Frayser High will be operated by Frayser Community Schools, a grass-roots coalition led by former Westside principal Bobby White. Fairley, in southwest Whitehaven, will be run by Green Dot, a California charter group that has 19 middle and high schools in Los Angeles.
    Aspire Public Schools, also based in Los Angeles, will take over Coleman in Raleigh. Promise Academy, a charter headed by former Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal School headmaster Tom Beazley, will be in charge of pre-kindergarten through first grade at Spring Hill, also in Raleigh. Freedom Prep, an award-winning local charter in southwest Memphis, will operate pre-kindergarten through first grade at nearby Westwood.
    KIPP Memphis also will open the beginnings of a middle school, starting with 6th grade, in a yet-to-be named school in the southwest part of the city.
    “I got the school I wanted,” said Isadore Harris, president of Coleman PTA, who had hoped for a match with Aspire. “I can tell they really love the children.”
    He saw it firsthand and unscripted, he said, when he made an impromptu visit to Hanley Elementary this fall and happened to follow a blind student to her classroom.
    “She had a one-on-one tutor. I have never seen that before. She was actually learning.”
    Aspire took over Hanley in Orange Mound this fall.
    Teachers in each of the schools were to receive letters Thursday from the ASD outlining the changes and guaranteeing them interviews if they want to stay on.
    Next year, when the six new charters launch, enrollment will bump to 6,500, and the ASD, which three years ago was only a concept, will be in charge of phasing in operations in 10 percent of the former Memphis City Schools.
    The ASD has won support from a wide swath of Memphians, including former school board member Sara Lewis. When Barbic called her to the stage to make final remarks, he noted it wasn’t long ago that people were warning him that “Sara Lewis would eat me alive.”
    They’ve had a dustup or two, but Thursday she praised him as “a good friend,” someone she’s come to admire for being “really, truly committed to changing the face of public education in Memphis and all over Tennessee. That is why I am here,” she said.
    The matching decisions were based on recommendations from 25 community leaders the ASD commissioned to hear what parents and neighborhood leaders want for their schools.
    Though adviser suggested Carver High would be best served by Green Dot, the potential match changed this week when the Shelby County Schools board of education announced it planned to keep Carver, turning it into a school for grades 7-12 to absorb nearby Riverview Middle, one of the lowest performing middle schools in the state.
    Last summer, when the ASD announced the schools it intended to run in 2014-2015, the list included Wooddale High, Denver Elementary and South Side Middle.
    Wooddale was to partner with Gestalt Community Schools, but that fell through when Gestalt said it preferred to focus on its schools at Humes Middle and in southeast Memphis. South Side fell off the list when the ASD decided the school had what it needed to improve on its own.
    Back at Coleman, Harris said the mood was anxious.
    “Teachers are afraid of losing their jobs,” he said. “I’ve been told I will be part of the committee that does the interviewing. I am heading over there now to tell people the news.”
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