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City University Boys Preparatory enrolled 88 students as of August.

City University Boys Preparatory enrolled 88 students as of August.

State board sides with Memphis district in closing City University Boys school

UPDATE: On Feb. 8, the state Board of Education voted to uphold the decision of Shelby County Schools to not renew the charter of City University Boys Preparatory. The school will close in May, following the end of this school year.

The state board of education is being told it should approve a recommendation to shut down a small Memphis charter middle school after 10 years of operation.

The 33-page recommendation, published Tuesday, comes less than two weeks after state board staff visited Memphis to hear an appeal from City University Boys Preparatory. If the state board votes at its Friday meeting to approve the recommendation, the 88-student charter school will officially close at the end of the school year this May.

“The school has been unable to demonstrate sufficient progress toward its academic goals set forth in the charter application and agreement over the course of its ten-year charter term,” according to the document.

City University is one of the oldest charter networks in the city and operates three other schools. When charter schools open, they are awarded 10-year charters, making this the first time a charter school has existed long enough under Shelby County Schools administration to be eligible for renewal or closure.

The Shelby County Schools board voted 6-3 in December to close City University Boys Preparatory, after looking at 10 years of state test data, finances, and measures of school environment such as student discipline. (Three other schools’ charters were renewed.)

The state board’s review committee cited City University Boys’ lagging academic progress and financial instability because of low-enrollment as the main reasons the decision to close the school should stand.

“It is readily apparent that City University Boys has a dedicated board and staff, sincere commitment to the community they currently serve, and has created a safe and welcoming environment for its students,” state board Director Sara Heyburn Morrison wrote in the recommendation.

Lemoyne Robinson, the charter network’s chancellor, was not immediately available for comment, but has said previously that he felt the district failed to properly evaluate the entire 10-year history of the school.

Under Tennessee law, the state board can overrule a local school board’s decision if the state board determines that the decision goes against the state’s standard of review.

Since the first charter school opened in Tennessee in 2003, the state board has only overturned 15 out of 72 school board decisions to approve, revoke, or renew a charter. That includes a vote in 2012 about two City University schools, when the state board kicked back a decision to the Memphis school board.

The number of charter schools has grown steadily in Memphis and Shelby County since Tennessee opened the door to nonprofit charter schools beginning in 2003. In August, Shelby County’s school board approved nine more characters for next fall, including six Compass Community Schools that will replace the soon-to-close Jubilee Catholic Schools Network. Once those open, Shelby County Schools will have 63 charter schools — by far the most in the state.

Another local charter school, Gateway University, has also been approved for closure by the Memphis board following a district investigation. The charter high school has until the end of the week to appeal to the state Board of Education.

You can read the state board staff’s recommendation to close City University Boys in full below: