Editor’s note: Gateway University Charter School was ordered to shut down a year after a Chalkbeat investigation into the Memphis high school found the administration falsified grades, improperly employed uncertified teachers, and awarded credits for a geometry class that did not exist. Find other articles in this series here.
Seven Tennessee Board of Education members on Tuesday unanimously upheld the Shelby County school board’s decision to close a charter high school – the second Memphis charter the board has voted to close this year.
The vote means the Gateway University Charter School will cease operations at the end of the school year and 150 students will need to find a new high school for this fall. The school will shut down a year after a Chalkbeat investigation into the school found the administration falsified grades, improperly employed uncertified teachers, and awarded credits for a geometry class that did not exist.
Following Chalkbeat’s reporting, Shelby County Schools launched its own seven-month investigation and voted in late January to close Gateway. The district investigation found that the school’s leaders mismanaged the school and intentionally misled the district.
Gateway appealed the closure vote to the state board.
Read our in-depth investigation into Gateway University here, which was published last June.
In its report published Friday, the state board went further than the Memphis district’s investigation to find that the school employed a teacher previously cited for assaulting a student and continued to employ uncertified teachers into this school year, contrary to state law.
State board member Lillian Hartgrove said during the Tuesday meeting that it was unfortunate Memphis students and parents had to undergo another school closure. In February, the board affirmed the Memphis district’s closure of City Boys University Preparatory charter school at the end of the school year.
“This affects those children who have been taken out of their previous environment and put in this one; every time this happens we’re putting children in the middle of all this,” Hartgrove said. “Everyone has to do their due diligence, but charter schools should be ready and prepared so we’re not put in this position.”
Discussion during Tuesday’s vote centered on whether or not Shelby County Schools can do more to head off problems with charter schools like Gateway, which start as one-off charters without a broader network to lean on for support. The district will oversee 60 charter schools this fall — by far the most in the state.
State board Director Sara Heyburn Morrison told board members that she felt the district did try to address some of the problems early on, such as alerting the school that it needed to hire certified teachers in October 2017.
“The issues were so egregious, I’m not sure SCS could have headed them off,” Heyburn Morrison said. “What they can do for schools in the future is to provide more support on the front end.”
State board member Darrell Cobbins, who is from Memphis, said while he understood the challenge for Shelby County Schools in monitoring so many charter schools, he would like to see more district oversight in the future.
“We need checkpoints in which things can get caught before there’s a snowball effect and you end up with a mountain of issues,” Cobbins said.
Heyburn Morrison agreed, and added that Shelby County Schools was considering ways to flag concerns earlier, such as by attending charter schools’ board meetings.