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Students arrive for the start of the school day at Memphis Delta Preparatory, one of the charter schools in limbo after the school board deferred a closure vote in October 2018.

Students arrive for the start of the school day at Memphis Delta Preparatory, one of the charter schools in limbo after the school board deferred a closure vote in October 2018.

As low-performing Memphis charters await vote on their fate, the district asks families to consider other schools

District leaders are urging families to choose another school for their children, as four charter operators await the Shelby County Schools board’s vote on whether to shut them down.

The board is weighing the fate of the following charter schools:

  • City University School Girls Preparatory
  • Du Bois Elementary of Arts Technology
  • Du Bois Middle School of Arts Technology
  • Du Bois Middle School of Leadership Public Policy
  • Granville T. Woods Academy of Innovation
  • Memphis Delta Preparatory

These schools, all on the state’s “priority list,” serve an aggregate of about 1,300 students. By state law, local school boards must vote to close at the end of this school year charters among the bottom 5 percent of Tennessee schools, as measured by several years of state tests.

A date for the vote has not been set.

The district’s charter school office, which oversees 54 charter schools in Memphis, sent a letter to families in December saying they should “get familiar” with some of the other 200 schools under the district’s purview. In an email sent last week to charter operators, the district said it would hold a school information fair for parents impacted by school closings.

“Tennessee Statute requires that charter schools on the Priority List close at the end of the school year,” read the Feb. 1 email from Daphné Robinson, the district’s charter school director. “Because the enrollment cycle has begun, the division of Family & Community Engagement will be contacting your parents to invite them to an information fair to discuss with them their options.”

Below is the letter from Shelby County Schools from December (story continues below):

One other charter school on the priority list, The Excel Center, serves adult students who dropped out of high school. But the district converted it to a contract school so that it could continue to operate under a different governing model.

This school year would be the first test of the law that requires the lowest- performing charter schools to close, after state officials delayed its implementation because of botched attempts to administer a smooth online test with high stakes for schools and teachers.

One board member said she has “no faith” in the TNReady test that the priority list is based on, highlighting widespread mistrust of Tennessee’s problem-plagued testing program.

“I’m not going to tell you I’m going to hold you accountable for a test I have no faith in,” one board member, Stephanie Love, said.

Love said she wants to know if charter schools with high academic growth scores, as measured by the state’s controversial formula, would be spared from closure similar to how improving district-run schools are protected from state takeover.

“I would like more clarity around if they do have an opportunity to stay open with an improvement plan,” Love said. “I don’t feel comfortable closing a school that pretty much they’re improving.”

State lawmakers banned the use of 2017-18 scores from being used to place schools on the priority list after several days of technical problems threw the state’s online testing program into chaos.

If a school’s scores from last year helped them escape the list, the state included them. So, even though scores at the impacted charter schools may have improved, they did not improve enough to avoid the list, according to the state.

The Shelby County Schools board had originally planned to make its decision on school closures in October, but delayed the vote in hopes of getting additional guidance from the Tennessee Department of Education. District officials asked in August via email if state policy required two years of test data before a school could be identified on the priority list. As of Thursday, the state said it had not received any questions from the district since the delayed vote in October.

Feb. 11, 2019: This story has been updated to include what Shelby County Schools asked state officials for to clarify schools’ designation on the latest priority list.