Bobby White, founder/CEO of Frayser Community Schools, and Allison Leslie, Memphis executive director of Aspire Public Schools, wrote the below commentary in collaboration with other ASD operators. It was published by The Commercial Appeal on April 13.
All students deserve access to quality schools, to learn in a supportive environment and have the rich and rigorous education one needs to be successful by graduation. Fortunately in Tennessee, there is an explicit focus to create this opportunity for all students.
There is only one way we can turn around our state’s bottom 5 percent of schools successfully, and that is together. As leaders of Memphis’ public charter schools in the Achievement School District (ASD), our goal is and always will be to work closely with our communities, parents and teachers to create the best learning environment for our students and put our students’ needs above all else.
Although this work is incredibly difficult, we’re 100 percent committed to closing the achievement gap of our students and making this partnership successful.
Education reform and school transformation continue to dominate the headlines, particularly when it comes to the politics of educating children. We know those in the state legislature listen to the voices of many constituents. Some of those voices seek to limit our work, while others want to expand options for families.
Despite the filing of recent bills that make the success of our schools more difficult to achieve, we are forging ahead undeterred. We are thankful that this work has started a statewide dialogue focused on meeting the needs every student.
When we made the decision to work with the ASD, we knew we signed up for the hard, rewarding work of school turnaround. We also understood the intense scrutiny and pressure that go along with doing something that has never been undertaken in our city or state.
We signed up for this because we believe in every child’s potential. We know we have to be creative and thoughtful in delivering a great education to our students, all with the goal of lifting our students to the same academic heights as their peers who are fortunate to attend better-performing schools.
Such a departure from the norm, however, isn’t easy. Finding new solutions to persistent problems requires great effort and perseverance. Any new journey has its challenges, but it is also full of astounding successes and the potential for great rewards.
Our charter schools with the ASD are neighborhood schools that serve all students, with no admission criteria. We believe when autonomy and resources are shared with talented and committed educators who are in line with our goals, these educators will determine the best way to ensure that students in priority schools receive a stellar education.
We also believe that success requires cooperation with everyone within the community. With that, we are thankful for the other Memphis school leaders throughout Shelby County Schools who have generously opened their doors and engaged in discussions about best practices as we tackle this work together.
Since the creation of the ASD, we have all learned and adapted, and this collective effort is paying off. Today, 4,500 fewer students attend priority schools in Memphis, and over the last two years, students in Tennessee’s priority schools have grown much faster than their peers in non-priority schools.
Equally important to student achievement is the fact that parents are beginning to see the difference in their children’s learning and are more engaged in school transformation.
While we are proud of the direction we are heading, we recognize we have a long way to go. We will continue to learn quickly, adjust and get better every day, every year, with every student. This willingness to learn and improve, coupled with our undying dedication to this task, is evident in our students’ significant academic growth and our stronger relationships with our neighborhood communities.
Every one of us is serving more students in Memphis next year, by adding grades to existing schools or adding entirely new schools. We are here to serve the Memphis community for the long haul, and our dedication to this city, to our neighborhoods and to our students and families has never been stronger.