There’s a push to launch a new charter school in West Nashville, this one with an untapped focus for similar schools in Davidson County: Instead of catering to only at-risk, economically disadvantaged students, the school would actively target middle- and upper-class children as well.
The conceived school –– a grade structure is still undecided –– would add to the wealth of publicly financed, privately operated charters that have budded in Metro over the last few years. But it would be the first to explicitly take advantage of a new state law allowing open enrollment to charter schools.
“We’ve organized an informal group to look at the possibility of creating a charter school somewhere in West Nashville that would have more of a mixed-income population than the charter schools that have typically started here in Nashville,” said Nashville investor Bill DeLoache, who is leading the effort.
“We’ve got a number of people who are informally looking at this,” he said. “The main activity so far has been to go visit a number of schools that might serve as models.”
Prior to the most recent legislative session, eligible charter school students had to qualify for federal free and reduced lunches. Accordingly, all charters in Nashville have historically sought to offer choice to students who come from impoverished families. The new West Nashville charter –– if it becomes a reality, which is no guarantee –– would try to appeal to students from all economic backgrounds, including those who live in affluent areas like Green Hills or Belle Meade, for example.
“There are a number of existing charters that will benefit from open enrollment and end up taking students that otherwise would not have been eligible,” DeLoache said. “But this would probably take advantage of it on a broader scale than the others.”
DeLoache is a trustee of the Joe C. Davis Foundation, which assisted with the recent launching of the Tennessee Charter School Incubator. He is the cousin of Anne Davis, wife of Mayor Karl Dean. Also behind the West Nashville charter push, DeLoache said, is Townes Duncan, managing partner of Solidus Company, who serves on the board for KIPP Academy, a Nashville charter. (Duncan also chairs the board for SouthComm, The City Paper’s parent company.)
If organizers decide to move forward with a proposal, DeLoache said they would likely submit an application to the Metro Nashville Board of Education in 2013 to accommodate a 2014 opening. Still, he said there’s a small chance they would apply in 2012 to open in 2013.
“This is still very much in the exploratory phase,” he said. “If we are actually able to create a school similar to the ones we’ve been visiting, I think there would be substantial demand for it.”
DeLoache listed off several potential charter schools as models, including: High Tech High in San Diego; Summit Public Schools in the Silicon Valley region of California; the Denver School of Science and Technology; and Great Hearts Academies in Phoenix.
The City Paper obtained the template for a still-not-launched website that calls the proposal “West Nashville Charter school,” but DeLoache said a name isn’t settled, nor is there a facility.
A steering committee has formed to advance discussions on the West Nashville charter school concept. Among members is Metro school board member Michael Hayes, who represents the Green Hills area. He characterized his involvement as “more passive than active,” adding, “I support it, and want to help them in any way I can.”
“Every charter school is open now to families of all incomes,” Hayes said. “It just so happens that the first handful that opened, opened under the previous laws, which required that their student body come from ... at-risk families. Now that the law has changed, every school can take applications from children of any socio-economic group.”
Hayes added, “Diversity will be a key in any charter school’s push in West Nashville.”
But school board member Ed Kindall, who represents schools in some of the county’s most impoverished neighborhoods, said he would have diversity concerns about the West Nashville charter concept if it were proposed.
“This is was one of the fears that I had when the recent law was changed to allow all students to attend charter schools,” Kindall said, adding he “anticipated this might happen.”
“What I worry about is that if there is [a charter school] that opens in an area that has a large population of middle or middle-to-upper class parents, what is that school going to really look like?” Kindall said.
“I think if we don’t find a way to ensure that these are diverse schools –– socio-economically, racially, etc. –– we’re going to deepen the isolation within our school system.”
A PowerPoint presentation labeled “West Nashville Charter School Task Force,” dated June 29, reveals some potential goals of such a school. One page is headed “What issues could a West Nashville Charter School Address?”
The presentation makes three points:
• Movement of businesses to Williamson County because of the perception public schools are better there
• Movement of upper income students in Davidson County away from public schools and into private schools
• Growing concern about affordability of private schools
Matt Throckmorton, executive director of the Tennessee Charter Schools Association, said the state’s new open enrollment law should open the doors for new charter approaches similar to the West Nashville concept.
“What we’re going to see in the years to come with the changes that have been put in the law is a lot of real different and unique combinations of schools,” Throckmorton said. “This is clearly one of them.”