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.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

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