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See who wants to open a charter school in Memphis in 2019

A student at work at Freedom Preparatory Academy in Memphis.
A student at work at Freedom Preparatory Academy in Memphis.
Micaela Watts

Fewer applicants are vying to open charter schools in Memphis and one of them will seek to convert religious schools to publicly funded charters.

Ten charter organizations applied to Shelby County Schools ahead of the April 2 deadline to open 18 schools in 2019. That’s down from 14 applicants last year, and the school board only approved three.

The most prominent among this year’s applications are nine schools that would be managed by a new organization led by Christian Brothers University president John Smarrelli. New Day Schools would convert the sites of private Catholic schools into charters. If approved, it would be the first such conversion in Memphis and represent a new strategy to obtain public money after private school tuition vouchers failed to be approved in the state legislature. Eight schools would be kindergarten through eighth grade, and one would be seventh through 12th grade.

Five of the applicants already run schools in Memphis, either under Shelby County Schools or the state. The others would be opening their first charter school. (See the bottom of this story for a map of proposed neighborhoods.)

New this year are online access early in the approval process and a public comment period through April 27. You can access all charter applications here.

Shelby County Schools has the most charter schools in Tennessee, which are publicly funded schools that are privately managed by a board of directors. The Memphis district now has 51 charters that educate about 15,000, or 14 percent, of its students.

This year is the second under a more rigorous application process since Shelby County Schools doubled the size of its charter office to beef up monitoring.

These applicants will learn by the end of August whether they’ll get the green light from Shelby County’s school board:

  • Aspire Public Schools seeks to open Aspire Coleman Middle School in Raleigh to explicitly “distinguish” the charter’s existing middle school program from its elementary. The application harkens back to a tiff between Shelby County Schools and the state Department of Education over the charter’s legal ability to add grades to its state turnaround school. The new school, if approved, would allow the state to create a new school that would be under local oversight.
  • Aster College Prep seeks to open a fifth-through-eighth-grade college preparatory school in Orange Mound. It would be led by Teshanda Middleton, a fellow with Building Excellent Schools, a national charter school incubator.
  • Blueprint Adovah is a new charter organization and seeks to open a projects-based learning high school in South City.
  • Capstone Education Group seeks to open its third school in Memphis, but it would be the first under Shelby County Schools. Its two schools are under the state-run Achievement School District, which has taken over about two dozen city schools and handed them over to charters. The group did not specify which neighborhood the proposed middle school would be located in but noted it would focus on college preparatory courses.
  • Freedom Preparatory Academy seeks to open its sixth school as a K-8 college preparatory campus in Sherwood Forest.
  • Green Dot Public Schools seeks to open a K-8 school in Whitehaven as a feeder school to Fairley High School, a charter overseen by the state. The California-based charter organization operates four schools under the state. One of them was authorized by the state Board of Education, the first in the state after Shelby County Schools denied their application in 2016.
  • Harvest International Academy seeks to open its first Memphis school in Parkway Village, where teachers would facilitate discussion and learning instead of lecturing. They would also include more cultural content that is relevant to their students. The elementary school would be led by Denise Wilson, a teacher with Shelby County Schools.
  • Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering (MASE), the city’s first charter school, seeks to open an elementary school focused on science, technology, engineering and math.
  • Memphis Merit Academy would serve K-8 grade students in south and southeast Memphis. The school would be led by Lakenna Booker, a Building Excellent Schools fellow who formerly worked in Shelby County Schools, KIPP Memphis and Gestalt Community Schools, according to her LinkedIn profile.
  • New Day Schools, operated by Christian Brothers University president Smarrelli, hopes to convert nine campuses of the soon-to-be former Jubilee Catholic Schools Network in Whitehaven, South Memphis, Orange Mound, Midtown, Hickory Hill, Frayser, Downtown, Binghampton, and Berclair. None of the schools would keep their religious teachings.

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