Like most parents trying to understand why the state is seeking to take control of six more Memphis schools, Shanta Gilmore says she would prefer that her daughter’s school remain under the oversight of Shelby County Schools.
“I believe that Sheffield Elementary is progressing,” Gilmore said at one of four community meetings to discuss the state’s proposal to convert the schools to charter or state-run schools. “I already know the teachers and I’m familiar with them, and I feel like my child is in safe learning environment already.”
Gilmore was one of about 150 parents who attended last Thursday’s meeting at a neighborhood church, where leaders of the state-run Achievement School District talked about the status of Sheffield and Kirby Middle schools. As state priority schools, both are ranked academically in the bottom 5 percent of Tennessee Schools.
The final community meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening for parents and community members in the Caldwell-Guthrie Elementary School neighborhood.
At the first three meetings, most parents expressed skepticism about the ASD and its process for determining the schools’ future.
The meeting format includes parents submitting their questions on index cards for ASD leaders to answer. Here are seven questions that keep coming up, as well as the answers provided by the ASD:
1) What is the Achievement School District, and what does it do?
The Achievement School District, or ASD for short, is a state-run district created in 2010 to turn around Tennessee’s worst-performing schools, known as priority schools. It has state authority to remove eligible priority schools from local district control and then either to 1) authorize a charter operator to manage the school or 2) manage the school itself as an Achievement School. Twenty-two of the ASD’s 27 schools in Memphis are charter schools, which are independently run public schools granted the flexibility to make major operational changes designed to boost student performance.
2) What is a neighborhood advisory council, and what does it do?
These councils are part of the ASD’s new “community engagement” process and will represent priority school communities exploring charter conversion. The bodies, each with 10 to 14 members, will include parents, students, community members and educators with ties to the priority school being considered. Interested individuals apply to participate, and the deadline to apply has been extended to Wednesday.
3) How does the ASD select members for the councils?
The district is looking for people who know the neighborhood school community and have a vested interest in its success, said ASD spokeswoman Letita Aaron. “We aren’t looking for ASD champions, nor are we looking to convert those against ASD intervention,” Aaron told Chalkbeat, but for “individuals who believe students can and should do better and are interested in finding the right intervention for the school.”
4) How much influence do the councils have?
After operators submit their applications by the Oct. 23 deadline, the councils will interview them in November. On Nov. 30, members will submit individual assessments of the operators that determine if there is a school match. ASD leaders will make the final decision in early December.
5) What happens if, after all of this, my school is not matched with a charter operator?
The school will remain with Shelby County Schools, Aaron said.
6) If my child’s school becomes part of the ASD, will the school remain in the state district indefinitely?
Charter schools have a 10-year contract with the ASD. Superintendent Chris Barbic says the current plan is to release those schools back to their original district after 10 years.
7) If my child’s school is taken over, how will it affect my children and their teachers?
If your school is matched with a charter operator, your child can attend that school next year under the new operation, or next spring you can exercise a “general choice transfer” to keep your child in a different school within Shelby County Schools. You also can apply for an “optional schools transfer” to attend one of Shelby County Schools’ theme-based schools such as aviation, dual-language immersion or health sciences. As for teachers, they can re-apply to work at the school, but it’s ultimately the new operator’s decision which faculty members stay and go.