When officials at Memphis Scholars Raleigh-Egypt Middle School learned that another school on the same campus could get extra help for its students, they made a big decision: to pick up and move.
Memphis Scholars announced Monday that the school will reopen next year in a building 16 miles away, where the charter operator already runs another school under Tennessee’s turnaround district. The network will pay to bus students from the Raleigh neighborhood across Memphis daily.
The move is the latest and most dramatic episode in an ongoing enrollment war between the state-run Achievement School District and Shelby County Schools in the Raleigh neighborhood.
Most recently, Shelby County Schools proposed adding Raleigh-Egypt Middle/High, which shares a campus with Memphis Scholars now, into the district’s Innovation Zone — a change that would bring new resources and, the district hopes, more students.
The Innovation Zone represents a “high-quality intervention” for students in the neighborhood, according to Memphis Scholars Executive Director Nick Patterson. But he said it makes the presence of his school less essential.
Shelby County Schools’ proposal “creates two schools, on the same campus, serving the same grades, both implementing expensive school-turnaround initiatives,” Patterson said in a statement. “Memphis Scholars strongly believes that this duplication of interventions is not in the best interest of students and families as it divides scarce resources between two schools.”
The move also allows the network to solve two persistent problems. First, enrollment at Raleigh-Egypt Middle is less than half of what it was supposed to be, putting so much pressure on the school’s budget that the network obtained an energy audit to help it cut costs. That’s because Shelby County Schools expanded the adjacent high school to include middle school grades, in an effort to retain students and funding.
Plus, Memphis Scholars ran into legal obstacles to adding middle school grades to its Florida-Kansas school. Moving an existing middle school to the Memphis Scholars Florida-Kansas Elementary campus circumvents those obstacles. Because state law requires that at least 75 percent of students at Achievement School District schools come from the neighborhood zone or other low-performing schools on the state’s “priority list,” the charter school can welcome any middle schooler in its new neighborhood.
But network officials want to keep serving their existing students, and they’re offering transportation to make that possible.
It’s unclear if Raleigh students will follow the charter school across town. Some parents reached by Chalkbeat on Monday said they hadn’t heard about the changes yet, but their students said they found out today.
“I hadn’t heard about the changes, but I don’t like that too much,” said Reco Barnett, who has two daughters who attend the school. “We’re here because it’s right by where we live. It’s right in our area. I don’t know what we’ll do yet, I just now found out when you told me, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to do that. That’s a long ways away from us.”
The move would free up the building for use by Shelby County Schools. District officials did not provide comment Monday.
Chalkbeat reporter Caroline Bauman contributed to this story.