Citing capacity concerns, KIPP, Freedom Prep pull out of ASD takeover process

Two charter operators on Monday pulled out of the state’s efforts to take over some of its worst-performing schools next year.

KIPP Memphis officials said they would not take over South Side Middle School and Freedom Prep officials said they would not take over Florida-Kansas and A.B. Hill elementary schools next year, as the state-run Achievement School District had planned.

Officials with both charters raised concerns about their own ability to take over more schools, a laborious and expensive process that includes replacing leadership, hiring teachers, and building a new curriculum.

The development means South Side Middle and A.B. Hills Elementary schools will not be taken over by the state’s Achievement School District. Florida-Kansas could still be matched with Scholar Academies charter.

Two weeks ago, to much fanfare, ASD officials announced that they would take over nine schools next year and hand them over to nonprofit, privately run charter schools.

Over the next two months, they said, the charter operators would go through an extensive “matching” process with 12 schools in order for officials to determine which schools should be taken over. Several meetings with community members were set to start tonight.

Three of those schools – including South Side Middle School – would definitely be taken over by vetted charter operators next year, ASD officials said. Nine other schools would go through a months-long “matching” process to help ASD officials make the determination whether the ASD should, in fact, take over the schools and to which of five charter operators they should match them.

Of the three schools affected by today’s development, only one of them, Florida-Kansas Elementary, has another charter operator — Scholar Academies —  named as a possible pairing partner.

Teachers at South Side Middle School protested the takeover process last week, sending a letter to government officials and the media arguing that their scores had improved in the past year.

KIPP said the protest didn’t play into its decision to pull out of the process.

“We view the matching process as just that, a matching process,” said Jamal McCall, the executive director of KIPP Memphis Collegiate Schools. “With me doing our reflection, I was looking at where we are as a network, and my focus right now is on the quality of our current schools and ensuring that we continue to commit to those we currently serve and serve as we expand grade levels.”

McCall described the matching process with the Achievement School District as cloudy. KIPP originally requested to open a new elementary school inside a school that was closed by the district last year.  That plan, McCall said, is still in the works.

When the Achievement School District proposed KIPP take over South Side Middle School, McCall saw it as a “reachback.”

South Side was on the short list of schools to be taken over last year but ASD officials decided at the last minute not to pair it with ASD or Artesian.

“South Side is not KIPP’s priority list, it’s on ASD’s priority list,” McCall said. “Whether or not KIPP partners with South Side. ASD still has right to decide what happens with south side no matter what KIPP wants.  That’s the law.  South Side is on their priority list.”

Freedom Prep officials said they lack the capacity at the moment to expand their work to additional schools.

For example, each one of their current elementary school classrooms has two teachers an expensive experiment to lower class sizes and give kids more individualized attention.

“It’s really internal and external factors and changes that happened with our organization that effected our capacity to open a brand new schools and serve kids the way they need to be served,” said Roblin Webb, the executive director and founder of Freedom Prep. “We want to serve more kids but the last thing we want to do is serve kids poorly. We’re not doing that school any justice.”

This story has been updated to add comments from KIPP and Freedom Prep leaders.

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

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”