Director of Schools Jesse Register, the Metro Nashville Board of Education, Mayor Karl Dean and others signed a “charter school compact” Tuesday, a symbolic pledge of support for the publicly financed, privately operated schools that not long ago faced widespread hostility in Nashville.
“To me, it’s a recognition of the progress we’ve made over the last few years as a state and a city to be much more open in embracing public charter schools,” Dean said. “It’s a milestone.”
The compact is borne out of a new collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which recently named Nashville and eights other cities models of collaboration for supporting charter schools. Metro charter schools are eligible for future grant dollars from the foundation.
The school board, at one time skeptical of charters, approved another round of charter applicants last month, bringing the number of charters operating in Davidson County to 11 by next fall.
“While we have a history of animosity, we’ve moved beyond that and we’ve put the students first,” said Alan Coverstone, who oversees charter schools for the district. “That’s enabled us to find all kinds of potential for collaboration we didn’t know was there before.”
The sea change largely came via a 2009 state law that expanded the number of charters allowed in Davidson County and doubled the number of students eligible to attend charter schools. In addition, a new “charter incubator” opened in Nashville earlier this year, and Register carved a new charter schools czar position, held by Coverstone, into the Metro Nashville Public Schools’ central office.
Though the compact doesn’t obligate the school district to anything contractually, it does establish some best practices and commitments.
A few of these are as follows:
• All parties are to organize, plan and hold an annual Shared Practices Summit that brings together all high-performing public schools in Nashville for sharing and training on specific topics.
• Charter operators are to serve the same cross-section of students in the city as the other public schools by actively recruiting, serving and retaining comparable percentages of students as other district schools as allowed under state law in the following categories: students with exceptional educational need, students who are English Language Learners and students in other underserved or at-risk populations.
• The district is to include charter schools in the long-term strategic plans of the district including, but not limited to, student assignment planning and facility usage.
• Charter operators are to remove barriers for all eligible students to attend public charter schools by offering information regarding school enrollment and pertinent data in all languages and forms.
The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and Nashville’s charter school founders also signed the charter compact.