No one within the Achievement School District has stepped up to take over a school that lost its charter management — not even the network directly run by the turnaround district.
This means that Klondike Preparatory Academy Elementary will likely close this year. The announcement from ASD officials on Thursday sets the ASD up for its first-ever closure — the latest in a string of bad news that hints at deep troubles for the state-run district.
Gestalt Community Schools, a local charter operator, said in October that it would pull out of Klondike Elementary and Humes Preparatory Academy Middle schools because it was struggling to enroll enough students to sustain operations.
Two operators expressed initial interest in taking over at Humes and one appears likely to apply formally to run that school. But none are willing to run Klondike — including the district’s own operator, Achievement Schools, which already runs five schools in Frayser.
“This decision is based on what the Achievement Schools has determined as their inability to offer its full level of support and service to students with the financial implications of a lower student enrollment,” Bobby White, the ASD’s chief of external affairs, told parents and community members in an email Thursday revealing Klondike’s likely fate.
The setback provides another example of the ongoing challenges the charter operators within the Achievement School District face taking over neighborhood schools. A second operator, KIPP Memphis, announced this week that would also pull out of the South Memphis school it runs in the district because of enrollment struggles.
The ASD by design is comprised exclusively of low-performing schools in high-poverty areas, often with a dwindling school-age population. The state mostly restricts enrollment in ASD schools to neighborhood zoning, much like the traditional districts they once belonged to. That’s different from most charter schools nationwide, where operators are able to enroll students from anywhere in a city.
The ASD has also ruled out the possibility of Shelby County Schools reabsorbing the school, which the ASD took over in 2014 after years of poor performance. Shelby County Schools told the Memphis Daily News in October that it would “explore every possibility” of serving the students of Humes and Klondike.
“At this time it’s premature to speculate about what will happen with Klondike,” SCS spokeswoman Natalia Powers said in a statement. “SCS, however, commits to working with the ASD and impacted families to ensure students have the appropriate support.”
Both Gestalt and KIPP, which became the first charter operators to back out of turning around schools under its charge, cited low enrollment as their primary reason for exiting.
Frayser Community Schools, the second operator to show interest in Gestalt’s former schools, plans to submit an application, but only for Humes Preparatory Academy Middle. The ASD was originally unsure whether Frayser had the academic track record to be eligible, but gave them the green light to apply after state achievement scores came out last week.
Frayser isn’t certified to operate an elementary school, White said. He added that while Frayser is not necessarily committed to applying to run Humes, either, they have expressed interest. The application will be due in early January.
That leaves Klondike Elementary without an operator, meaning it would close at the end of this school year.
“As developments currently stand, students from Klondike Elementary School will be reassigned to a neighboring, higher performing school that will be identified through the collaboration of the Achievement School District and Shelby County Schools,” White said.
Frayser Community Schools currently operates one school, MLK College Preparatory High, located about five miles north of Klondike and Humes. The CEO of Frayser Community Schools Bobby White, no relation to Bobby White of the ASD, said his ties to the community makes his charter organization a natural choice to take over Humes.
“We care about the community, have a model to sustain the student population, and have a tremendous track record for leading middle schools and connecting to the community,” Frayser’s White told Chalkbeat.
Frayser’s White said that they have met with some of the families at Humes, and the feedback about what Gestalt has done in the school has been overwhelmingly positive.
“They want to keep the things Gestalt is currently doing,” White said. “They love the principal and asked if he would be able to stay. They had researched us and were excited that we came to visit.”
The ASD’s next steps will be holding public meetings:
- 5 p.m. Jan. 9 at Klondike Preparatory Academy, 1250 Vollintine Ave;
- 5 p.m. Jan. 11 at Humes Preparatory Academy, 659 N. Manassas St.
Reporters Grace Tatter and Laura Faith Kebede contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with comment from SCS.