New players

Achievement School District announces KIPP, Knowledge Academies to open Nashville schools

PHOTO: Grace Tatter
KIPP's latest school in Nashville is Kirkpatrick Elementary in East Nashville.

The Achievement School District has authorized two charter organizations to open schools in Nashville, which is relatively unchartered territory for the state-run school turnaround district.

District leaders announced Friday that KIPP Nashville and Knowledge Academies will launch their first ASD schools in the 2017-2018 school year.

No new charter organizations were authorized to open schools in Memphis, where the ASD has focused most of its school turnaround work since 2012. Margo Roen, the ASD’s chief of new schools, said the state district received fewer applications in Memphis this year.

The drop in Memphis applications may in part be due to a decision last fall by Shelby County administrators to no longer share facilities with charter operators that choose to phase in school operations, rather than taking control of an entire school at one time. Beginning with the 2015-16 school year, students in Shelby County Schools were moved out of all but one school under the co-location model.

The lack of new Memphis operators doesn’t mean the ASD won’t expand its footprint in Memphis, however.

“We will have operators who are already authorized through the ASD who will be allowed to grow for the 2016-2017 school year,” Roen said. “We do anticipate growing in Memphis.”

The additional schools planned under the additional operators will grow the ASD’s reach to at least 31 schools by the 2017-18 school year. In the upcoming school year, the ASD will operate 29 schools — 27 in Memphis and two in Nashville. The vast majority have been converted to charter schools.

KIPP Nashville will open an elementary school serving roughly 200 students in kindergarten and first grade, with plans to add a grade each year, eventually enrolling 500 students. Knowledge Academies Inc. will open a middle school serving approximately 360 students in grades five through eight, although the ASD has not determined if the school will be opened all at once, or phased in over several years.

“We’re very excited to have a larger impact in Nashville,” Roen said. “These are great operators who already have a great track record in Nashville.”

KIPP, a national organization based in San Francisco, already operates four schools in Nashville, all authorized through Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. Knowledge Academies, based in Antioch, Tenn., currently operates two schools through Metro Nashville Schools, with a third opening in the fall of 2016.

ASD leaders have said they will bring additional Tennessee schools under state oversight in the next year, a process that will ramp up in the coming weeks.

There could be new ASD schools announced for Nashville operated by previously state-authorized organizations, including LEAD Public Schools, which runs the ASD’s two current Nashville schools. The ASD will determine which of its current operators will grow to serve more students based on the growth made by the organizations’ existing ASD schools.

From there, all operators approved to serve neighborhood schools in the 2016-2017 school year will participate in a rebooted community input process from August to December. KIPP Nashville and Knowledge Academies will receive community input on which schools they should be matched with in fall 2016.

KIPP went through a rocky matching process last fall through Metro Nashville Public Schools, triggering fiery debate and the creation of two parent advocacy groups in East Nashville. Ultimately, Metro officials assigned the organization to take over Kirkpatrick Elementary, which opened under KIPP’s purview earlier this week.

The ASD previously had authorized KIPP Nashville to open a middle school, but KIPP decided to apply for an elementary school instead. Rocketship is also authorized to open schools in Nashville with the ASD, but has been focusing its Tennessee expansion through the local district.

Erick Huth, the president of the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association,  said he is dismayed at the ASD’s plan to expand in his district.

“Further expansion of the Achievement School District means more money dedicated to their charter schools, and that Metro’s salaries and operational budget will continue to be constricted,” he said.


Editor’s note: This story revises the third paragraph from an earlier version and includes a new fourth paragraph, clarifying that the ASD accepts phase-in applications and that Shelby County Schools is relocating phased-out grades.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”