Tennessee

Five things to know about the ASD’s expansion in Nashville

There has been a lot of chatter about the fate of low-performing schools in Nashville, and the Achievement School District’s potential involvement in turning those schools around.

The number of Metro Nashville schools on a list of low-performers released by the state Department of Education more than doubled this year, signaling that the ASD would be accelerating its growth in Nashville. ASD superintendent Chris Barbic even wrote an editorial paving the way for smooth relations between the Nashville community and his district, which can overhaul the faculty, staff, and governance of  the state’s lowest performing schools.

Predictions of a swift expansion in Nashville aren’t unwarranted. The ASD grew from six schools in 2012 to 22 schools this year, and officials plan to open or take over nine more schools by the 2015-16 school year.  Of those 22 schools, only one, Brick Church College Prep, is in Nashville. The rest are in Memphis.

Here are five things to know about what the expansion in Nashville will look like:

1) The ASD is only taking over one school in Nashville next year.  Metro Nashville’s number of priority schools more than doubled, from six schools in 2012 to 15 this year. In contrast, Shelby County Schools actually saw a decrease in priority schools, from 69 to 59. But, because of the limited number of organizations authorized by the ASD to open schools in Nashville, the district’s capitol expansion will still be tempered.

“It’s just a question of putting quality over scale and working with that charter operator and making sure they’re growing at the right pace, the pace that’s right for them,” Smalley said.

In February, the ASD will open up applications for charter organizations.  More organizations might apply to open schools in Nashville, Smalley said, which means Nashville might see more ASD schools in the coming years. The ASD will approve operators in June.

Smalley said one possible reason for the relative dearth of organizations interested in partnering with the ASD in Nashville is the lack of a local philanthropic community working to attract charter networks.

2) LEAD will be the only charter organization to expand in Nashville this year.  

LEAD Public Schools is the default choice to continue the district’s expansion in Nashville because the ASD has only authorized three charter management organizations to take over or open schools in Nashville. The other two eligible operators, KIPP and Rocketship, are not focusing on opening more schools with the ASD at this time, Smalley said. Last month, Rocketship officials told Chalkbeat that they would prefer to open schools with the Metro Nashville Public Schools, in part because state law limits enrollment at ASD schools to students who are zoned to priority schools, which are academically in the bottom five percent of schools statewide.

LEAD currently operates four schools in Nashville: LEAD Academy, Brick Church, Cameron College Prep Academy, and LEAD Prep Southeast.

3) It hasn’t yet been decided whether LEAD  will take over a priority school in East Nashville. 

East Nashville has the highest concentration of priority schools in Nashville, and its residents have organized a political action committee, called East Nashville United, in protest of Metro Nashville’s plan to turnaround or close those schools. Earlier this month director of schools Jesse Register announced a plan to close one or two as-of-yet unnamed schools in the area, convert some schools to charters, and eliminate residential zones, making East Nashville an all-choice zone. The members of East Nashville United say there needs to be more community input in the plan. Three of LEAD’s schools are in West Nashville.

4) The matching process in Nashville might look different than it does in Memphis.

The ASD is gearing up for its matching process in Memphis, which involves a series of community meetings and conversations with Shelby County Schools officials to determine which schools will be taken over or created, and which charter operators will take over those schools. The matching process in Nashville has not yet been defined, Smalley said, but it will look different, since community members don’t have multiple operators to choose from. ASD and LEAD officials are still in discussions with Metro Nashville Public Schools about the priority schools LEAD might want to work with.

5) The ASD has a good track record in Nashville, although it’s limited to one school.The ASD’s results overall have been mixed, but its Nashville school has done well. Brick Church College Prep saw the largest test score gains in the ASD this year  — more than 20 percentage points each in reading and math. A common criticism of charter schools is that they underserve special education populations, but more than 30 percent of Brick Church’s students are classified as special education students, far above the percentage of special education students in the state, which hovers around 13 percent.

Know something about the expansion in Nashville that we don’t? Tell us in the comments.

Contact Grace Tatter at gtatter@chalkbeat.org.

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*Correction: Because of an editing error, this story originally misstated the number of charter organizations eligible to expand in Nashville.  LEAD is one of three charter networks eligible to expand.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede