LEAD Academy, a charter organization with an already-growing presence in Nashville, is one of three operators a new Tennessee Department of Education entity has hired to convert a traditional school to a charter school as part of the state’s effort to turn around failing schools.
The state’s newly formed Achievement School District –– modeled after the Louisiana Recovery School District and comprised of the lowest-performing schools across the state –– announced Wednesday LEAD has been selected to transform a Nashville middle school into a charter, similar to the way the same charter organization recently gradually “phased in” Metro’s Cameron Middle School to a privately operated charter called Cameron College Prep.
Besides Cameron, LEAD also operates a middle and high school, and is planning to open a new middle and high school in Southeast Davidson County.
In addition to the LEAD announcement, the ASD also hired Gestalt Community Schools to open a new charter school inside a current ASD middle school in Memphis and Cornerstone Prep to convert an existing elementary school in Memphis into a charter. The transformed schools are set to open during the 2012-13 school year.
“We started this process focused on finding only the absolute highest quality educators,” said ASD superintendent Chris Barbic, founder of a charter organization in Houston, who the state tapped earlier this year to lead the new state cluster. “And we believe our process led us to the best organizations committed to serving ASD students and families.”
Barbic said the three schools would undergo a “community engagement and matching process” to determine where within in Nashville and Memphis, respectively, they will operate. The matches to specific schools will be announced in mid-January.
The three charter organizations were among nine that responded to a request for qualifications issued in August in search of operators willing to open charter schools within the ASD. Currently, the ASD is co-managing five historically low-performing Tennessee schools, and 13 schools statewide qualify for the special form of state intervention.
A new law the Republican-dominated state legislature approved in the spring authorized the ASD to approve charter applicants that would pool kids zoned for the 13 ASD schools, effectively bypassing local school board governance.
Additional schools could soon be part of the ASD. The ASD-qualification figure is expected to rise –– to perhaps as high as 85 –– through the expected federal approval of the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver application. Barbic has indicated the state would take over some low-performing schools and bring in charter organizations to lead others.
Jeremy Kane, founder of Nashville LEAD Academy, called it an “honor” to be selected by the ASD: “We’re thrilled about being able to do even more to make Nashville’s schools the best in the state.”
Also announced Wednesday, all three ASD-approved schools will receive federal Investing in Innovations (i3) grants. LEAD is set to receive $1 million in grant money, the school announced.
In addition, KIPP Memphis, which was recently authorized by the consolidated Memphis City Schools-Shelby County board, will also receive i3 funds.