Another face-off is shaping up between the charter school community and the Metro Nashville Public Schools board.
A group wanting to set up a charter school in the McGavock cluster officially laid out their plan to the school district despite knowing its application flies in the face of a new board policy limiting new schools to those addressing severe overcrowding or converting schools plagued with dismal performance.
“This is about academic options, about quality and really looking at data throughout the city to see where we can make the most impact,” said Greg Thompson, CEO of the Tennessee Charter School Center which helped the school craft its application. “It looks like this is sort of a direct challenge, but that’s not really how we had it in our minds.”
STRIVE Collegiate Academy Charter School seeks to open a middle school in the McGavock cluster, noting that three of the four middle schools in the area are labeled by the school district as “review” or “target” schools, MNPS’ two lowest classifications. All but one of the schools there are below or near capacity, but all four are projected to tip above capacity by the 2017 school year. Advocates for the school say the proposal is deeply rooted in identifying and giving the community with shaky academic results the kind of school it needs there.
But the proposal disregards the new must-haves the school board wants to see in charter school applications: converting a repeatedly failing school into a charter, or opening in areas troubled with the greatest overpopulation.
“I think this is a hostile application that is purposefully designed to thumb its nose at the board policy and what the district has said it needs,” said Will Pinkston, a school board member. “They want to do the easy stuff. They don’t want to do the hard work, that’s the bottom line.”
He sent an email to school board members singling out STRIVE’s application as intentionally non-conforming to the policy. While he said other proposals have merit, STRIVE’s proposal “has the potential to become ‘the new Great Hearts,’” a reference to an ugly fight in 2012 over a rejected charter school that has caused lasting ripples in the local and state education community.
Thompson said STRIVE’s founder and the Charter School Center are pushing ahead with the proposal anyway and argue their submission has been in the works long before the district set its new policy.
“We just think at the end of the day we should all be asking ourselves where is the academic need of the city and let’s evaluate great applications based on what they bring to the table and not so much these priorities, the priorities are very narrowly defined and not necessarily based on academics,” said Thompson.
STRIVE is one six charter school applications assembled with at least some help or nod from the Tennessee Charter School Center — a group often at odds with Pinkston, who is the board’s charter school review committee liaison. Several applications came from charter operators already running schools in the district, such as KIPP Nashville and STEM Preparatory Academy. Two applications the district received were built independently of the center, said Thompson.
The state legislature is expected to decide in coming weeks whether to allow the state Board of Education to approve charter schools rejected by local schools districts. Although the legislation is still pending, Thompson said using that route as a backup could be in the cards if MNPS denies the application.
Here is a full list of official applicants, furnished by Metro Nashville Public Schools. Copies of the applications were not available for review prior to this posting, according to a district spokesman:
* The International Academy of Excellence. Proposed to serve K-4 beginning with kindergarten and 110 students, reaching 550 at capacity.
* KIPP Academy Nashville Elementary School (KANES). Proposed as a phased conversion of a target school to serve grades K-4, beginning with K-1 and growing one grade per year.
* Knowledge Academy High. Proposed to serve grades 9-12, beginning with grade 9 and 105 students, building out 420 students at capacity.
* Rocketship. Proposed Rocketship schools would serve PK — 4, opening with 475 students in PK-4 and at capacity serve 575. One application is for a new school in South Nashville and a second would convert management of a target school.
* STEM Prep. Proposed to serve grades 9-12, beginning with grade 9 and 100 students, serving 400 at capacity.
* STRIVE Collegiate Academy. Proposed middle school serving grades 5-8, opening with grade 5 and 115 students, reaching a capacity of 460 in grades 5-8.
* The Tracey Darnell Agricultural Science and Technology Academy. Proposed high school to begin with grade 9, 40 students and at capacity serve 400 students in grades 9-12.
* Valor Collegiate Academy Southeast. Proposed K-8 replication of Valor Collegiate and modeled after Summit Prep to serve families in southeast Nashville. At capacity would serve 975 students.