Officials with the state-run Achievement School District said they plan to open up to two brand-new schools and take over as many as nine additional historically low-performing schools next year. All but one of the new schools next year are slated to be in Memphis.
The ASD, a state effort to improve schools by dramatically overhauling their staff, programs, and governance, has grown quickly since it was created in 2011: It ran six schools in 2012-13, 17 schools in 2013-14, and is operating 22 schools, one in Nashville and 21 in Memphis, this year. Its enrollment has grown from 2,000 students in Memphis in its first year to approximately 6,500 students in the city this year.
Shelby County superintendent Dorsey Hopson II said that the district met with ASD officials Thursday to discuss the expansion.
“We’ll have meaningful input into which schools they take and don’t take,” he said.
Hopson said the district would consider factors like feeder patterns—which elementary schools send students to which middle and high schools—and whether schools had new leaders or plans for improvement in place when making suggestions.
The schools taken over by the ASD in 2015-16 will be the first drawn from the newest state priority list, which uses three years of test scores and graduation rates to determine which low-performing schools should receive interventions.
All of the new ASD schools will be turned into charter schools, which hire their own staff and set their own schedules, curricula, and budget. (The ASD also directly runs five schools.) Schools’ attendance zones remain the same, but any student zoned to a bottom 5 percent school can enroll. New ASD charter schools can enroll any student zoned to a bottom 5 percent school.
Shelby County Schools will use the same priority list to determine which schools will join its Innovation Zone, a group of turnaround schools that remain in the district but are given new staff, resources, and longer school days. The district plans to add four schools next year and is also considering using charter schools to run those schools.
Hopson and ASD superintendent Chris Barbic have publicly emphasized what they refer to as “co-opetition” between the two districts.
Hopson said that “I wish we could ‘I-Zone’ more of our schools. But for schools we can’t get that intense treatment to, I feel better knowing that they’re getting something.”
A draft list of schools to be taken over by the ASD will likely be made public by early October. The final decision about which charter school will be “matched” with which priority list school will likely be determined by December, after a series of community meetings.
“We’re in the early stages,” said Margo Roen, the ASD’s New Schools Director. “We’re still analyzing data to figure out which schools will be on the final list.”
Roen said the October list will likely change over time, as the district will go through a process of meetings with communities and schools to determine which school is matched with which operator.
That process has been bumpy in previous years, as some schools’ staff and communities have protested the ASD’s plans to overhaul their schools. At South Side Middle and Caldwell-Guthrie Elementary, for instance, school leaders presented ASD leaders with data showing that their schools were on an upward track already.
Elliot Smalley, the ASD’s chief of staff, said that as the district plans for a new set of meetings, “smoothness does not equal greatness…it’s right for people to be skeptical, given the track record of systems in Memphis and elsewhere. We want hard conversations to happen. If they’re not happening, we’re probably not talking about the right issues.”
The ASD has created a volunteer board known as the Achievement Advisory Council, or AAC, to make recommendations about which schools should be run by which charter school operator. Ian Buchanan, the director of community partnerships for the ASD, said that it had gotten more than 30 applications for the board this year. “We want to get more parents whose kids are in school on the AAC this year,” he said.
ASD leaders make the final decision about which schools are taken over. Last year, the ASD followed four of the AAC’s six recommendations for the Memphis schools.
Capstone Education Group, Freedom Prep, Green Dot Public Schools, KIPP Memphis, The Libertas School, Scholar Academies, and YES Prep are all planning to either take over or start new schools in Memphis. LEAD Public Schools would open another middle school in Nashville.
59 schools in Memphis are on the current priority list. Nine of those are already in the ASD.
Barbic told the media when state test scores were released in August that the district would use school performance to determine which schools would expand. The ASD has set the goal of improving schools’ scores so that they are in the top 25 percent in the state, which Barbic has said was intended to ensure that the improvements are lasting and significant.
Two school operators that had initially been slated to open new ASD schools in 2015-16, Aspire Public Schools and Artesian Community Schools, no longer plan to open schools in the ASD next year.
Aspire’s schools in the ASD, Hanley 1 and Hanley 2, both saw drops in test scores last year, their first year of operation. The ASD decided that the school would not expand, based on a new policy that requires school operators to be on target to reach academic goals in at least half of their schools before they add schools, according to Smalley.
“After the first year of school for Aspire, there was a decision to not replicate and not expand next year, and to focus internally on making sure the schools they have have a phenomenal year,” Roen said.
Allison Leslie, the director of Aspire in Memphis, said the network plans to open a new charter school as part of Shelby County Schools in 2015-16.
Artesian Community Schools is a local organization that has not yet opened a school because they haven’t found a suitable principal yet, said Ashley Smith, the network’s executive director. She said the network plans to open a school in 2016-17.
Rocketship and KIPP Nashville are also authorized to open schools in the ASD but are not yet set to open any schools.
The ASD, which is in its third year running schools, was created by the state’s First to the Top Act and funded by the state’s federal Race to the Top grant.
Below, find the draft list, provided by the ASD. Phase-in schools take over a grade at a time, while “full-school transformations” take over entire existing schools. The ASD also may open two brand-new schools.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated which organization decided that Aspire Public Schools would not open a new school in the ASD next year. The decision was made by the ASD based on a new policy.