School doesn’t officially start in Memphis until Aug. 4. But on Tuesday, 30 soon-to-be 9th graders were already in class on the top floor of Fairley High School. Downstairs, workers bustled around painting and moving furniture. The school’s assistant principal and special education coordinator met in a quiet room. The streets around the school were dotted with signs telling families to enroll in the school.
This is a pivotal summer at Fairley: Last year, the school was part of by Shelby County Schools. Now, it is a charter school run by Green Dot Public Schools as part of state-run Achievement School District. Fairley is one of six new schools this year, and one of the first two high schools, to be run by the ASD, which takes over schools academically-ranked in the bottom 5 percent in Tennessee based on students’ test scores.
Being taken over by the ASD means that Fairley is technically, by the state’s reckoning, a new school. But Green Dot officials say they want to keep many aspects of the school’s personality. For instance, Green Dot kept Fairley’s bulldog mascot, inserting a small version of its own logo in the bottom right. The school’s name is still Fairley High School.
“There was a lot of not knowing what would be the same and what would be different [among Fairley students and community members],” said Zach Samson, the school’s assistant principal. “We’re keeping the football team. We’re keeping the marching band. We want to keep those things but focus on structure and supporting better academics.”
As part of Green Dot’s Summerbridge program, incoming freshman reviewed the school’s code of conduct, while next door students silently finished a math assessment. Incoming sophomores, juniors, and seniors will have an orientation on Aug. 1.
The school anticipates having 650 students, Samson said, but Green Dot has been robocalling, going door-to-door, and posting signs around town to encourage families to enroll. Any student who attends a school in the bottom 5 percent in the state—some 18,000 families in Memphis—can attend an ASD school.
Green Dot recently launched a national organization and restructured its governing board for its schools across the country as it expands. Green Dot started its first school in California in 2000, and is now authorized to run schools in Tennessee and the state of Washington. Fairley High School is its first school outside of California.