In a major reversal from just two weeks ago, the Metro Nashville Board of Education unanimously agreed to let LEAD Academy, a charter school, gradually assume control of Cameron Middle School Tuesday night.
Billed as a charter partnership with public schools, the idea is to bring new leadership and strategies to Cameron, which has historically struggled to meet federal No Child Left Behind benchmarks and was recently placed in a new “achievement school district” by the state. The school will retain its original name. A formal charter agreement will be drafted in the months ahead.
When the plan came before the nine-member school board earlier this month, several members questioned LEAD’s effectiveness, track record and the concept of charter schools in general. The approval of LEAD seemed to lack enough votes for approval, but the board agreed to defer their decision at the last minute.
In the lead-up to last night’s meeting, board members with lingering questions and concerns met with Director of Schools Jesse Register, who advocated for the plan and apparently played a major role in changing some minds.
Two points of compromise, or clarification, appear to have swayed the board. For one, Cameron will be subject to regular assessments, established by the board, to measure LEAD’s effectiveness. In addition, the board has the authority to revoke its agreement with LEAD if it chooses.
“These last two weeks were helpful,” said board member Steve Glover, who had previously criticized parts of the proposal. “I feel more comfortable with this now that we’re actually going to see benchmarks before we approve the final contract — because we are entering uncharted waters.”
LEAD Founder Jeremy Kane, who will help pilot the new partnership, said he tried to address concerns of board members “directly” over the past two weeks and stayed confident in the plan.
“I think we really came to understand that the concerns were not about us directly, but these uncharted waters,” Kane said. “I think two weeks ago, there just wasn’t a comfort level there.”
Another factor in the sudden shift among board members could have been the alternative. If the board had shot down the LEAD proposal, the school still fell under the “Restructuring II” category of No Child Left Behind, giving the state authority to take over control. Though state administrators stayed quiet to the media over the last two weeks, they are believed to have been in contact with Register.
Board member Mark North, who two weeks ago questioned whether LEAD is a better-performing school than Cameron, said he expects the revamped Cameron to seek a level of community and parental engagement “like we’ve never seen around here.”
“Real good community engagement almost always improves the perception of the school,” North said. “Improved perception leads to an improved self-perception, which leads to higher expectations and higher achievement.”