As The City Paper's omnipresent Metro beat reporter Joey Garrison reported Friday, the state Board of Education voted to overturn an application denial by the Metro school board and approve Great Hearts Academies.
The Phoenix-based charter provider has plans to open a school on White Bridge Road in West Nashville. It was twice rejected by the Metro board.
If you're keeping track, the state has now nullified a local anti-discrimination ordinance, passed by the Metro council, and overturned a local decision to deny a charter school application, after concerns were raised about its student diversity plan. (It's worth pointing out, however, that while Mayor Karl Dean said the state should have respected local government with respect to the anti-discrimination ordinance, he actually asked the state to overturn the local body's decision on Great Hearts.)
As Garrison noted on Twitter Friday, a charter school, the merits of which were debated for months in Nashville, has now been approved unanimously by the state board after 18 minutes of discussion.
Whatever the status of its autonomy may be going forward, the Metro school board's future make-up will be determined Thursday when voters go to the polls for the Aug. 2 elections. In this week's dead-tree edition of the Scene, I report on the high-dollar, high-stakes District 5 race between current board chair Gracie Porter and challengers John Haubenreich, Elissa Kim and Erica Lanier.
The story mostly focuses on the increased interest — financially and otherwise — in the race and how four fundamentally different candidates are approaching the campaign. But my discussions with each also touched on Great Hearts.
Below, responses from each of the candidates when asked how they would have voted on Great Hearts. It should be noted that these responses were given before the state board's decision.
"I think I probably would have voted the way the board voted. We have a set of criteria that the district has established for charter schools. If you want to argue about the criteria, that’s a different conversation. But the fact is, we have these criteria right now. They include diversity, they include transportation, a number of other things. From what I’ve read, from what I’ve seen in the application, the application just didn’t hit those criteria.”
“Charter school operators know what the district is looking for when they go into this process. It’s completely transparent. It’s your choice whether or not you craft an application that hits those things or it doesn’t. Great Hearts appears to have made the choice that they wanted to do things how they wanted to do them. Didn’t look like it lined up with the criteria for me, so I think I probably would have come down the way the board came down.”
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what I think because it looks like it’s going to be decided by the state. At the end of the day, charters are here to stay. It’s state law. The question now for state boards and local boards is how are you going to regulate, to make sure that we make the right decisions and that we hold a very high bar.”
“Slapping a charter label does not make it great. You actually have to have a robust plan and a vision and most successful charter schools all have that. Great leadership — many different elements. And you can see that up front or they should be denied.”
“So I think, at this point, the conversation needs to switch to how are we going to ensure that whatever challenges existed, that we mitigate those moving forward. Because, whether it’s Great Hearts, it’s part of the educational landscape at this point. And so now we need people who actually know what differentiates a great charter, who have an extremely high bar.”
“I think with Great Hearts, the biggest concern — be it right, wrong, or otherwise — is that we are headed backwards historically, if we don’t demand the diversification up front, from that charter school.”
"Based on the information presented and my understanding of even the concerns of the State (Dr. Nixon) and their requirements I would have voted to deny their application. Diversity, transportation and certified teachers are elements we must ensure are in place for all our schools. I go back to my platform……equity of resources for all students. Regardless to whether the child is in a zoned school, magnet school or charter school ultimately the child is still our student and it is our responsibility to ensure that child gets what they need to succeed."
Porter voted to deny Great Hearts' initial charter application as well as its amended proposal.