Every student deserves a great education, and here at the ASD we know that there is not a moment to waste in our efforts to move the bottom 5% of schools to the top 25%. While we feel an incredible sense of urgency, we know that we must also be intentional in our work to provide excellent school options to every student. Balancing these two, sometimes competing, demands can be challenging. For that reason, we must move both quickly and carefully, ensuring that our attention to speed does not mean a sacrifice in quality.

The recent changes to our charter authorization practices are a great example of our ongoing effort to refine our processes. We believe that quality does not come from one action, but rather that it is something that must be continuously and intentionally applied. For that reason we have embedded it in each step of our authorization process:

  • All Call for Evaluators: We started with an All Call for Evaluators, seeking experts from Memphis, Nashville, and across the country with strong backgrounds in curriculum and instruction, school operations, and financial planning who also understand the parents and students we serve. We received many great proposals, and asked those who applied to demonstrate their expertise through performance tasks. The result has been a strong, dynamic, and diverse team of evaluators. We have engaged in multiple training sessions to establish reliability in the scoring of proposals and to ensure that everyone is looking for the same markers of quality.
  • Requests for Proposals: Next, we released three targeted Requests for Proposals, developed following months of extensive analysis of three-year school performance and enrollment trends. It is important to us that we remain nimble and adaptive to fill gaps and meet the needs of the communities we work in. We pulled examples from successful authorizers across the county, and engaged experts across the ASD to be sure that everything we asked was properly aligned to vet applicants’ readiness to implement a highly effective and sustainable academic program that meets the needs identified.

Ultimately, we received 10 intent to apply submissions, which yielded seven proposals from a truly varied group of experienced and start-up operators. This year’s pool offers everything from a blended model to a Montessori program to a boarding school serving Tennessee students in Africa. Additionally, experienced school operators are required to submit past school data to confirm that they have a demonstrable track record of success in their current schools.

This month, all of our work to develop a quality evaluation process and our efforts to recruit excellent evaluators and operators converge. Our independent evaluation teams are in the midst of reading and scoring the proposals and engaging in lively discussions around whether or not the submissions meet the high bar that we have set. All operators will receive feedback on their submission, but only those who meet a minimum quality threshold will advance to the capacity interviews. At the interviews, the evaluation teams will further vet applicants’ plans and their founding team’s  ability to implement the plans with fidelity.

The time and effort to create a rigorous and objective evaluation process is to ensure we only authorize the very best charter partners. After all, our students deserve nothing less.