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.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.