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State to hear appeals from two national charter networks rejected by Memphis board today

Sara Heyburn Morrison, executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education
Sara Heyburn Morrison, executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education
Micaela Watts

Two California-based charter networks are asking the Tennessee State Board of Education to overturn the denials of their applications to establish charter schools in Memphis through Shelby County Schools.

The State Board will hear appeals from both Green Dot Public Schools and Pathways in Education today.

Both are seeking to operate high schools in the growing Hickory Hill area of southeast Memphis. They are appealing the Aug. 23 decision of the Shelby County Schools Board of Education, which voted unanimously to reject three charter applications while authorizing five others.

Staff for the State Board will complete a review and make recommendations before the full board considers the appeals.

In denying applications from Green Dot and Pathways, the local board followed staff recommendations that cited the performance of the two operators’ existing schools in Memphis, all authorized through the state-run Achievement School District.

District administrators had specifically pointed to Green Dot’s low growth score in 2014-15 at Fairley High School. But in their appeal letter, Green Dot officials said Fairley had outperformed three district-run high schools — Hamilton, Melrose and Trezevant, which entered the district’s Innovation Zone in 2014-2015 — in ACT scores, discipline rates and expulsion rates.

“We must do more for our students. However, Fairley’s data is a strong proof point, particularly as the first full secondary school transformation within the Achievement School District and with 9th grade students entering almost four grade levels below in literacy,” wrote Green Dot executive director Megan Quaile.

In recommending rejection of Pathways in Education’s application, district administrators cited low performance and the national chain’s sustainability under several pending lawsuits.

But Pathways officials argued that opening its proposed new school would serve some 60 existing Pathways students closer to home, and that the network has a national 30-year track record in serving the targeted at-risk population.

The school board’s Aug. 23 denials also included the charter application of The LeFlore Foundation, whose executive director said initially that he planned to appeal the decision. But LeFlore officials did not follow through.

This is the second time this year that charter operators in Memphis have appealed to the state over decisions by the local board. In May, the State Board upheld the local board’s decision to close four Memphis charter schools.

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