None of the 10 hopefuls who submitted applications to open 18 charter schools in 2019 cleared the first hurdle for approval from Shelby County Schools.
District officials said some were too vague, others didn’t have the performance record to justify opening another school, and still others appeared to have too few leaders to handle their start-up plans.
And for the first time, district officials in Memphis got public feedback during the charter school application process. Brad Leon, the district’s chief of strategy and performance management, said 162 comments came in after the applications were posted online in April.
District leaders are scheduled to outline their recommendations to school board members Thursday.
New Day Schools would convert nine sites of private Catholic schools into charter schools. Led by Christian Brothers University President John Smarrelli, the new schools would replace nine campuses of Jubilee Catholic Schools, which will close at the end of next school year.
Daphne Robinson, the district’s charter school director, said she had “concerns about making sure they had enough staff at the network level for their planning year” since New Day would have to hire dozens of teachers and finalize curriculum and materials for nine schools. If eventually approved, the new organization would be the largest charter network in Memphis.
Leon said even though there was no mention of religious affiliation in New Day’s application, he noted the organization’s mission and vision were vague. “It’s a challenge to have one vision and mission and then transition” to another vision, he said.
And four applicants who are a part of the state-run Achievement School District want to expand by adding charter schools supervised by the local district. One of them, Green Dot Public Schools, appealed to the state two years ago after Shelby County Schools rejected their initial application and became the first charter school authorized by the state Board of Education.
“Their performance has continued to be poor,” said Leon on Green Dot, adding that amendments on their application wouldn’t change that. It is “a network of schools that hasn’t yet proven [performance] and they’re asking for another school.”
If the school board approves the recommendations to send applicants back to update their applications, they have 30 more days to revise and resubmit. The school board will vote on the amended applications August 21.
The Shelby County Schools charter office, which has doubled in size in recent years, uses the state’s requirements for charter schools to vet the applications. Office staff also interview the applicants.
For the first time, the review process included comments from 20 community organizations in addition to the public comments. And for the second year in a row, Shelby County Schools partnered with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers to help shape and execute its review process.
Below you can view Shelby County Schools’ summary of recommendations for each application.
This story has been updated with Shelby County Schools’ recommendation summary sheets for each application.