The Metro Nashville Board of Education postponed voting on a proposal to let LEAD Academy, a charter school, assume control at Cameron Middle School, opting Tuesday night to defer the matter to its next meeting.
The deferral, approved by a 5-4 vote, came after an hour-and-a-half deliberation in which several board members criticized a plan — supported by Director of Schools Jesse Register and the state’s Education Commissioner Tim Webb — that would turn Cameron, a struggling public school, over to an outside charter organization.
At moments during the discussion, it appeared the proposal lacked the votes needed for the go-ahead. Rejecting the proposal could spawn a host of unknown questions on the future of Cameron, which is part of a new “achievement school district,” composed of 13 underachieving Tennessee schools eligible for a state takeover.
“Moving forward, I don’t know what the reaction would be [from the state],” Register said. “I’ve got to be very honest about that. It would be some kind of negotiation with the commissioner of education.”
Even the deferral itself could raise eyebrows from the state, which supported the charter transfer, making clear its desire for bold and quick action to boost a school that’s continually failed to meet federal No Child Left Behind benchmarks.
“I think we’re kind of skating on thin ice on this,” said school board chair David Fox, a proponent of the LEAD-Cameron partnership. “We’ve got a school to balance. We’ve got a lot of public attention for what we’re doing here, and we’re not closing the deal one way or the other. We have 615 kids we’re talking about.”
The plan would gradually, grade-by-grade, turn governance of Cameron to LEAD. Under the proposal, charter school elements transferred to LEAD, among others, would include higher teacher salaries, an extended school calendar and longer schools days. The revamped school would receive an additional $1.5 million in annual funds.
But board member Mark North said test scores at LEAD aren’t much better than those at Cameron, pointing out Cameron’s value-added scores have started to improve. He said, “Cameron is on the cusp of being a great school.”
“I don’t completely get it,” an impassioned North continued. “I don’t understand why we would outsource this school that we all understand is actually doing pretty well. Now, it ought to be better, but it’s doing as well as LEAD is.”
Others suggested LEAD, founded in 2007, hasn’t been around long enough for a legitimate measure of its success.
“LEAD’s been in operation for three years,” board member Gracie Porter said. “Even though we have some test data, we really don’t have a track record, so to speak.”
Some, meanwhile, questioned why the board received only three charter applications for the transformation at Cameron — the others being from a Memphis-based group and an outfit from Washington, D.C.
“I’m not against the charter concept,” said board member Steve Glover. “I just don’t believe we’re making a model here that we can roll out to the nation. I don’t believe we’re doing our due diligence enough to serve the children at Cameron.”