New state education division could manage 10 low-performing Metro schools

Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at 2:43pm

Ten low-performing Metro schools would qualify for a new state cluster led by a governance branch called the Achievement School District, under the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver request issued two weeks ago.

Pending U.S. Department of Education approval, which is expected, these schools could be handed over to outside charter operators or receive direct intervention from the state ASD itself. In all, 85 schools across Tennessee –– the lowest 5 percent of schools based on student proficiency –– would be eligible for the new district.

Memphis City Schools leads Tennessee with 68 schools that qualify for the ASD. Hamilton County Schools, the third and only other school district affected, has seven eligible schools.

Tennessee Department of Education spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier said Wednesday the state is hopeful it will learn whether the federal government has approved the NCLB waiver request by the end of this year.

Carved out of the state’s First to the Top law and modeled off Louisiana’s Recovery District, the ASD is conceived as a way to turn around persistently poor-performing schools, primarily through two ways: converting some schools into publicly financed, privately run charters and ramping up state governance at others.

The state this spring hired Chris Barbic, founder of a Houston charter network called YES Prep Public Schools, to lead the ASD.

As denoted on the NCLB waiver, the 10 Metro schools that could be eligible for the ASD are: Bailey Middle; Brick Church Middle; Buena Vista Elementary Enhanced Option; Gra-Mar Middle; Jere Baxter Middle; John Early Paideia Middle Magnet; Napier Elementary Enhanced Option; Robert Churchwell Museum Magnet Elementary; Smithson-Craighead Middle, a charter school; and Nashville Diploma Plus.

By the 2012-13 school year, according to the state’s NCLB waiver request, the vision is for ASD to begin managing six schools, three via private charter operators and three through ASD-run operations. The ASD is already co-managing some Tennessee schools. Under the plan, ASD presence would increase each subsequent school year.

Earlier this month, the ASD — which has autonomy to circumvent local school boards and approve charter applications — authorized three charter operators. Among those was LEAD Public Schools, which has emerged as Nashville’s largest charter network.

Having already led the recent charter conversion of Nashville’s Cameron College Prep, LEAD and its founder Jeremy Kane hope to transform another Metro middle school into a charter.