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Heyburn recommends reversing Memphis school board on Green Dot’s charter denial

From left: Executive director Sara Heyburn and attorney Elizabeth Taylor present to the State Board of Education last May.
From left: Executive director Sara Heyburn and attorney Elizabeth Taylor present to the State Board of Education last May.
Grace Tatter

Ahead of a vote on Friday, the executive director of Tennessee’s State Board of Education is recommending that the board grant a California-based charter network’s appeal to open a high school in Memphis.

The appeal, by Green Dot Public Schools, seeks to reverse a unanimous vote in August by the board of Shelby County Schools to deny the charter.

In her report released Wednesday, Sara Heyburn also recommended denying appeals by two other California-based operators seeking to open charter schools in Memphis and Nashville. Pathways in Education wants to open an alternative high school in Memphis, and Rocketship Tennessee seeks to open a school in Nashville.

The State Board will vote on the appeals on Friday while holding its quarterly meeting in Martin, Tenn. If the board follows Heyburn’s recommendations, Shelby County Schools will have 30 days to decide whether it will become the authorizer of Green Dot’s new high school in Memphis. However, if they can’t reach an agreement, the State Board would become the authorizing agent.

It would be only the second time in Tennessee’s charter history that the State Board has broken from a local school board’s decision on charter school authorization. Last October, the board voted in line with Heyburn’s recommendation and unanimously overruled the Nashville school board’s denials of two KIPP charter schools. The State Board eventually became the authorizer after Nashville’s board decided later not to take on the two KIPP schools.

The Memphis appeals were filed as Shelby County Schools is seeking to strengthen oversight of its growing sector of charter schools.

District administrators had cited a low growth score at one of Green Dot’s four existing schools in Memphis among the reasons for denying the network’s application to open a school in the city’s Hickory Hill area. However, Heyburn was impressed with Green Dot’s work.

“The application reveals that the Sponsor has a clearly identified geographic area and deep knowledge of the population they intend to serve in the Memphis community,” according to the recommendation.

Pathways in Education already operates two Memphis alternative schools through the state-run Achievement School District.

Rocketship Education has two schools in Nashville through Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. The network has received national attention for its results in California, where it started, but also criticism for its focus on learning through computers and its partnership with tennis star Andre Agassi, who turns a profit on some of the operator’s campuses, including one in Nashville.

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