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Haslam reaffirms commitment to Tennessee’s turnaround district, even as the state downsizes its office

Gov. Bill Haslam visits the Memphis classroom of teacher Jessica Lindsay (left) at Aspire Coleman Elementary School. He was accompanied by Superintendent Malika Anderson of the Achievement School District, which oversees the charter school.
Gov. Bill Haslam visits the Memphis classroom of teacher Jessica Lindsay (left) at Aspire Coleman Elementary School. He was accompanied by Superintendent Malika Anderson of the Achievement School District, which oversees the charter school.
Caroline Bauman

When Gov. Bill Haslam came to office in 2011, he inherited a school turnaround district that has been a constant lightning rod for Tennessee’s education reform efforts.

During a school visit on Friday in Memphis, he re-upped his support for the Achievement School District, even as the state has clipped its wings and is preparing to dramatically downsize its central office.

“Part of the streamlining is finding a sustainable formula for how to fund the ASD,” Haslam told reporters about the new plan to slash jobs and consolidate offices. “I see the recent moves as that. It’s a look to the future and how we make this work.”

Haslam said the district is “evolving” and that he wants to see its work continue after he leaves office in 2018. He’s also hopeful that test scores, which were a mixed bag two years ago during the state’s last full testing period, will tell a different story this year.

“It takes time for school turnaround efforts,” Haslam said. “But I think this school and others like it are on the right track.”

Haslam’s visit to Aspire Coleman Elementary School came a week after Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced plans to merge the offices of the ASD with its Achievement Schools, a network of five Memphis schools run by the district. Starting in July, the consolidated office will provide mostly the same services with half as many positions.

Like Aspire Coleman, most of the ASD’s 31 schools are operated by charter networks.

Since inheriting the ASD from Gov. Phil Bredesen under Tennessee’s Race to the Top initiative, Haslam has championed the state’s most rigorous intervention for low-performing schools. But the district has been plagued by lackluster test scores, under-enrollment and community anger and mistrust for taking over neighborhood schools.

Aspire Coleman joined the ASD in 2014 and is operated by California-based Aspire Public Schools. In its first year, the school outperformed other ASD schools in reading scores, but had a low growth score.

Halsam (middle) walks alongside state Sen. Brian Kelsey and Aspire Coleman Principal Owen Ricciardi.
Halsam (middle) walks alongside state Sen. Brian Kelsey and Aspire Coleman Principal Owen Ricciardi.
Caroline Bauman

Haslam visited the school with ASD Superintendent Malika Anderson as part of his statewide Teacher Cabinet tour. Aspire Coleman’s Jessica Lindsay has served on the cabinet for two years and has helped to lead intervention strategies for high-need students. Haslam and Anderson applauded the school for their new approaches to instruction and discipline, which have cut suspensions by two-thirds schoolwide.

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