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Memphis board spares three charter schools from closure, breaking with district staff

All seven charter schools up for renewal this year won agreements to operate another 10 years despite a recommendation from Shelby County Schools staff to close three of them.

A unanimous vote from the Memphis school board spared Memphis Business Academy Middle, Memphis College Preparatory Elementary, and Veritas College Preparatory from closing. A separate vote affirmed the district’s recommendation to keep open Southern Avenue Elementary, Promise Academy Hollywood, Soulsville Charter School, and Memphis School of Excellence.

The votes mean about 2,800 students will not have to find another school to attend in the fall. The decisions are the first 10-year renewals under the school board’s new charter school policy, which was created by a group of charter and district leaders after years of negotiations.

The board’s policy was meant to hold charter schools accountable for academic performance. But even though district staff used the policy to recommend closing the three schools, board members looked at other factors in their final decision.

“None of us are doing the work we really want to do, but we understand this urban work it’s holistic,” Anthony Anderson, CEO of the Memphis Business Academy charter school network, said after the vote. “It’s about academics, but it’s also about building confidence.”

People show support for one of the charter schools originally recommended for closure. The school board unanimously voted to keep them open.
PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat

Charter operators disputed some of the district’s findings, which mostly used state test scores over the last 10 years to recommend which charter schools to keep open.

Some charter leaders said during their hearings earlier this month that the board should consider that they have helped parents find jobs, invested millions in commercial development including a medical clinic, and are even working to build houses to support school families.

About a dozen parents, staff, and students from the schools recommended for closure spoke to the school board.

“They care about us and our education our well-being. I need them,” said Amya Faulkner, an eighth-grader at Veritas College Preparatory.

“If they close down our school, where are we going to go?” her twin, Diamond Faulkner, said.

Stephanie Love, a school board member whose district includes Memphis Business Academy Middle, said network leaders “understand now what their challenges are and what they need to do,” and cited state law that allows the board to close them if their test scores drop, even before the schools are eligible for renewal again in 10 years.

“They got a victory with us today, but if they don’t meet that, they’ll be closed,” Love said after the meeting. “This is a lesson to all schools that we have challenges, so it shouldn’t be about us versus them because on any given day, a child could leave an SCS school and enter a charter school,” and vice versa.

Tyree Daniels, a board member for Memphis College Prep, said he was “jubilant” at the board’s vote. The school opened 10 years ago in Uptown but moved to the Alcy Ball neighborhood three years ago. He said the school is still recovering academically from that transition, but has seen progress.

“The board is giving us more time to do the work we have set out to do,” he said.

The post Memphis board spares three charter schools from closure, breaking with district staff appeared first on Chalkbeat.

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