ASD

Achievement School District, SCS make plans for failing schools

PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki
Students and their teacher on the first day of school in 2014 at Freedom Preparatory Academy, a charter school authorized in Memphis by the state's Achievement School District

Officials with the state-run Achievement School District said they plan to open up to two brand-new schools and take over as many as nine additional historically low-performing schools next year. All but one of the new schools next year are slated to be in Memphis.

The ASD, a state effort to improve schools by dramatically overhauling their staff, programs, and governance, has grown quickly since it was created in 2011: It ran six schools in 2012-13, 17 schools in 2013-14, and is operating 22 schools, one in Nashville and 21 in Memphis, this year. Its enrollment has grown from 2,000 students in Memphis in its first year to approximately 6,500 students in the city this year.

Shelby County superintendent Dorsey Hopson II said that the district met with ASD officials Thursday to discuss the expansion.

“We’ll have meaningful input into which schools they take and don’t take,” he said.

Hopson said the district would consider factors like feeder patterns—which elementary schools send students to which middle and high schools—and whether schools had new leaders or plans for improvement in place when making suggestions.

The schools taken over by the ASD in 2015-16 will be the first drawn from the newest state priority list, which uses three years of test scores and graduation rates to determine which low-performing schools should receive interventions.

All of the new ASD schools will be turned into charter schools, which hire their own staff and set their own schedules, curricula, and budget. (The ASD also directly runs five schools.) Schools’ attendance zones remain the same, but any student zoned to a bottom 5 percent school can enroll. New ASD charter schools can enroll any student zoned to a bottom 5 percent school.

Shelby County Schools will use the same priority list to determine which schools will join its Innovation Zone, a group of turnaround schools that remain in the district but are given new staff, resources, and longer school days. The district plans to add four schools next year and is also considering using charter schools to run those schools.

Hopson and ASD superintendent Chris Barbic have publicly emphasized what they refer to as “co-opetition” between the two districts.

Hopson said that “I wish we could ‘I-Zone’ more of our schools. But for schools we can’t get that intense treatment to, I feel better knowing that they’re getting something.”

A draft list of schools to be taken over by the ASD will likely be made public by early October. The final decision about which charter school will be “matched” with which priority list school will likely be determined by December, after a series of community meetings.

“We’re in the early stages,” said Margo Roen, the ASD’s New Schools Director. “We’re still analyzing data to figure out which schools will be on the final list.”

Roen said the October list will likely change over time, as the district will go through a process of meetings with communities and schools to determine which school is matched with which operator.

That process has been bumpy in previous years, as some schools’ staff and communities have protested the ASD’s plans to overhaul their schools. At South Side Middle and Caldwell-Guthrie Elementary, for instance, school leaders presented ASD leaders with data showing that their schools were on an upward track already.

Elliot Smalley, the ASD’s chief of staff, said that as the district plans for a new set of meetings, “smoothness does not equal greatness…it’s right for people to be skeptical, given the track record of systems in Memphis and elsewhere. We want hard conversations to happen. If they’re not happening, we’re probably not talking about the right issues.”

The ASD has created a volunteer board known as the Achievement Advisory Council, or AAC, to make recommendations about which schools should be run by which charter school operator. Ian Buchanan, the director of community partnerships for the ASD, said that it had gotten more than 30 applications for the board this year. “We want to get more parents whose kids are in school on the AAC this year,” he said.

ASD leaders make the final decision about which schools are taken over. Last year, the ASD followed four of the AAC’s six recommendations for the Memphis schools.

Capstone Education Group, Freedom Prep, Green Dot Public Schools, KIPP Memphis, The Libertas School, Scholar Academies, and YES Prep are all planning to either take over or start new schools in Memphis. LEAD Public Schools would open another middle school in Nashville.

59 schools in Memphis are on the current priority list. Nine of those are already in the ASD.

Barbic told the media when state test scores were released in August that the district would use school performance to determine which schools would expand. The ASD has set the goal of improving schools’ scores so that they are in the top 25 percent in the state, which Barbic has said was intended to ensure that the improvements are lasting and significant.

Two school operators that had initially been slated to open new ASD schools in 2015-16, Aspire Public Schools and Artesian Community Schools, no longer plan to open schools in the ASD next year.

Aspire’s schools in the ASD, Hanley 1 and Hanley 2, both saw drops in test scores last year, their first year of operation. The ASD decided that the school would not expand, based on a new policy that requires school operators to be on target to reach academic goals in at least half of their schools before they add schools, according to Smalley.

“After the first year of school for Aspire, there was a decision to not replicate and not expand next year, and to focus internally on making sure the schools they have have a phenomenal year,” Roen said.

Allison Leslie, the director of Aspire in Memphis, said the network plans to open a new charter school as part of Shelby County Schools in 2015-16.

Artesian Community Schools is a local organization that has not yet opened a school because they haven’t found a suitable principal yet, said Ashley Smith, the network’s executive director. She said the network plans to open a school in 2016-17.

Rocketship and KIPP Nashville are also authorized to open schools in the ASD but are not yet set to open any schools.

The ASD, which is in its third year running schools, was created by the state’s First to the Top Act and funded by the state’s federal Race to the Top grant.

Below, find the draft list, provided by the ASD. Phase-in schools take over a grade at a time, while “full-school transformations” take over entire existing schools. The ASD also may open two brand-new schools.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated which organization decided that Aspire Public Schools would not open a new school in the ASD next year. The decision was made by the ASD based on a new policy.

 

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.