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New charter schools mean more choices for Memphis families

  • Written by Tri-State Defender Newsroom
  • Published in Original

tate 600You've probably known of a business that, for whatever reason, had a reputation for bad service, or sold a product that didn't meet your expectations.

Maybe you've noticed a place like that with a sign outside that says "under new management." It's their way of saying they're turning things around to offer the very best.

Well, I am pleased to say that six of our schools in Shelby County that, for whatever reason, haven't met our expectations will make the changes they need to offer our kids a world-class education in Memphis.

These six schools will join the 16 other Memphis schools that are part of the Achievement School District in the upcoming 2014-15 school year. Let's talk about what that means.

Each school in Tennessee is measured each year by its ability to improve student performance over the year before. We measure how well our students perform through a variety of assessments.

The Achievement School District was created to take the bottom 5 percent of schools in Tennessee and invites school operators with proven success to turn those schools around. The district sets high expectations for these new ASD schools: to perform among the top 25 percent in the state in five years.

It's for good reason. A seat in a quality school makes all the difference in a child's future. Any job that provides any standard of living these days requires some form of college degree. We have to make sure our children are ready to meet that challenge.

We know that students in quality schools, that top 25 percent, perform as if they'd had 86 extra days of reading and 72 more days of math instruction. They are ready to meet the challenges they will face after school.

When we talk about the bottom 5 percent of schools, we're talking about schools that consistently don't meet our expectations and don't prepare our students for the challenges they will face. While they may be home to many dedicated teachers, and the surrounding community does all it can to turn around the school, something still isn't working in these schools.

Here in Memphis, those schools account for 25,000 students, and 1 in 3 students aren't doing reading and math on grade level. Our kids need us to do better.
This is where the Achievement School District comes in. The district both operates schools and matches others with high-quality local and national organizations with proven success, many of them charter schools.

Before a school joins, the district actively engages parents, teachers and members of the community before establishing new management in a neighborhood school.

After months of that kind of engagement last year, the ASD has announced new operators in six Memphis schools: Aspire Public Schools at Coleman Elementary, Promise Academy at Spring Hill Elementary, Freedom Prep Academy at Westwood Elementary, Frayser Community Schools at Frayser High School and Green Dot Public Schools at Fairley High School. The district will also open a new KIPP Academy for sixth-graders.

If you have children in these schools, you can expect dramatic improvement. Take Freedom Prep for example. The new operator of Westwood Elementary currently serves a 100 percent minority population, 86 percent of which qualify for free and reduced lunch.

In 2012, the school was the only school in the Memphis City Schools district to be honored with "Reward School" status by the state for academic proficiency and growth. They did it by expecting the very best of their students, with double blocks of math and reading, an extended school year and mandatory tutoring. That's the kind of education we should expect for our kids in every school!

With schools like Freedom Prep, the Achievement School District is giving our kids the opportunities they deserve.

If your child is zoned for one of these schools I've mentioned, or you think your child's school isn't meeting your expectations, I urge you to learn about your options. Every student zoned to a school in the bottom 5 percent is automatically eligible for the ASD.

With more schools doing everything they can to offer our kids the very best, you have choices, choices that could make a difference in your child's future.

(State Sen. Reginald Tate represents part of Shelby County in the General Assembly. He serves as vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee.)

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