Achievement School District Announces Work to Accelerate High Potential Schools in Memphis

By Achievement School District

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Achievement School District launches effort to accelerate performance of six Memphis schools

Significant investments to be made in Frayser schools, community; two new charters also announced

Memphis, TN, February 27, 2012 — Three high potential Memphis schools currently among the bottom 5 percent in academic performance in Tennessee will be operated by the Achievement School District next fall as part of a massive effort to transform under-performing schools and invest in communities across the state.   

Achievement School District (“ASD”) Superintendent Chris Barbic said Monday that the ASD, working in collaboration with Memphis City Schools and Frayser community leaders, will operate Corning Elementary, Frayser Elementary and Westside Middle schools as “Achievement Schools” when the 2012-2013 school year starts in August.  The ASD will work to elevate the three schools to the state’s top 25 percent of schools in five years, dramatically changing future opportunities for children and families.

“We owe our children hope, a real shot at achieving the American dream of a home and a family and a successful career and a chance to pursue happiness.  All of that starts with education,” Barbic said. “The ASD represents an opportunity to create a new system of public education focused on dramatically improving the schools that are the most struggling.  There are a lot of wonderfully dedicated educators in Memphis, but we have to face up to the fact that good people working in a broken system will not lead to the quality education and bright future that children across Memphis deserve.” 

“Radical change continues to transform the educational landscape in Memphis,” said Memphis City Schools Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash. “With this partnership, we are excited about the educational possibilities and choices that will accrue for all children and families in Shelby County.”

Each of the Frayser schools has incredibly high potential. Last school year, only one out of every 10 students in the three schools met the Tennessee standard for academic achievement, with 90 percent scoring below the proficient level.  Across the state, 44 percent of students are proficient or advanced—over four times the rate of students in the Frayser schools.  Barbic said urgent action is needed.

“We will not deliver on our promise to our children when the chances are that 5-year-old students entering kindergarten will more than likely spend their entire public education in a school ranked in the bottom 5 percent in the state.  We can’t allow our students’ incredible potential to go unrealized. All of us – the governor, the leadership of the Memphis City Schools, our local community and political leaders and we at the Achievement School District – want the best for our children. We stand united.”

Students and parents will see the benefits of changes this August, including extended learning time, extra supports, expanded pre-kindergarten, college-bound school cultures, and best-in-class teachers and leaders. The ASD will work to keep the most effective teachers currently working in the schools, while also attracting top talent from around the state and country.

These efforts will have a huge impact on the Frayser community and “feeder” pattern—a pattern of connected elementary, middle, and high schools—where 75 percent of the schools are identified as “Priority Schools” by the state. 

“Focusing on feeder patterns allows us to be more creative and innovative in our efforts to help students achieve academically,” Barbic said.   “It also allows us to best engage the community and ensure we bring partners into this tough, rewarding work.  When we get the school and community relationship right, we maximize our chance to prepare students for a rigorous, college and career-ready experience from pre-kindergarten through graduation.”

The ASD has worked closely with the leaders of Memphis City Schools to ensure a smooth transition. Barbic and MCS officials met today with teachers and staff from each campus to discuss the transition and the opportunity for transformation. Barbic praised the leadership of the Memphis City Schools for their leadership and support of landmark reforms, their leading-edge Teacher Effectiveness Initiative (TEI) reform, and their incredibly hard work on behalf of students.

“With this effort, working together, we will show that schools that have under-performed in the past can indeed achieve at high levels given the right team, the right resources, an appropriate amount of freedom and flexibility and the support and accountability necessary to dramatically improve student learning,” Barbic said. “Our goal is to ensure that every student in Tennessee has access to a great education.”

The ASD was created as part of Tennessee’s response to the federal “Race to the Top” initiative to dramatically improve under-performing schools. The ASD has been empowered by the Tennessee Commissioner of Education to authorize charters and directly run schools and Local Education Agencies.  The three Memphis schools are the first announced to be directly operated by the ASD.

“We know that there are pockets of greatness in these schools and we want to highlight those and build upon them.  We also know that we need to be more comprehensive and urgent in our actions to help our students.  I am not comfortable going to sleep at night knowing that we can do more for our kids, and in our meetings with the community, I heard loud and clear what I’ve seen my entire life as a teacher and school leader—parents want great schools.  We are excited to begin the process of building great schools for our students and our parents,” Barbic said. 

The ASD already has held community meetings in the Frayser feeder pattern to learn more about the community’s goals and priorities. The ASD will hold parent information sessions throughout March.  Today, Barbic will deliver a telephone message to the homes of the nearly 1,300 students at the three schools to talk with parents about the new plan to improve learning.

The three campuses will remain neighborhood schools serving students in their attendance zones.  The schools will be funded on the same per-pupil formula used by the state for all schools, including those in the Memphis City district.

ASD also announced Monday that Cornerstone Prep, a local non-profit already operating a successful school, will convert Lester Elementary School, starting with Kindergarten through 3rd grades and eventually adding grades four and five in the 2013-2014 school year. Cornerstone Prep students attend school for a longer period of time each day and for more days each year than traditional public school students, and focus on reading and math.

In addition, the Gestalt Community Schools has been authorized by the ASD to open another campus inside Gordon Elementary school as a “co-habitation” model. Gestalt operates Tennessee’s highest performing charter school, the Power Center Academy. The Gestalt program also includes longer school days and school years with a focus on financial literacy and community stewardship. This campus will start with 6th grade for the 2012-13 school year and expand to grades seven and eight in future years.  This model will not impact the operations of Gordon ES and will serve only students zoned to Priority Schools  – those rated in the bottom 5 percent of student achievement in the state.. 

Finally, ASD and MCS worked together on bringing another KIPP School to Memphis: a co-habitation model with Cypress Middle School.  KIPP’s newest campus was authorized by MCS and funded through ASD’s “I3” (Investment in Innovation) grants. 

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