Arizona-based charter group plans 5 to 10 Nashville schools over several years

Tuesday, January 10, 2012 at 7:09pm

An Arizona-based charter school network called Great Hearts Academies announced plans Tuesday to open five to 10 Nashville charter schools over several years, with hopes of locating its first school near Vanderbilt University.

The charter group’s media advisory arrived Tuesday via the Metro Council’s office, which listed “contacts” of four West Nashville-area council members: Emily Evans, Carter Todd, Jason Holleman and Burkley Allen.

The City Paper was the first to report in November about a push for a West Nashville charter school with an untapped focus for publicly financed, privately run charters in Davidson County. Instead of catering to only at-risk, economically disadvantaged students, parents and educators are looking for a charter that would target middle- and upper-class children as well.

A forthcoming proposal for a Great Hearts Academies charter schools would seek to meet that demand.

“Here in Phoenix, we have schools that serve a very diverse demographic,” Peter Bezanson, chief academic officer of Great Hearts Academies, told The City Paper in a phone interview. “We have schools in basically every suburb of Phoenix as well as schools that serve a more traditionally underserved urban-student population.

“We would seek to do the same thing in Nashville,” he said.

The next round of charter applications is set to go before the Metro Nashville Board of Education for approval in April. Bezanson said his organization plans to apply formally at that time. His group hopes to open the new school in the 2013-14 school year.

Bezanson said his group plans on locating its first school “where the demand is, as is only reasonable for a business.” From there, he said the organization hopes to locate charters throughout Nashville.

Bezanson said parent organizations have contacted Great Hearts Academies to tell school leaders about a demand for a charter school “around the Vanderbilt area.”

“I think that would be a pretty good place to put a school,” he said, adding that his school has organized two open houses in areas where they envision a new charter school. Still, he said he’s open to putting the organization’s first school anywhere. “Wherever most people want us to be, that’s where we want to be.”

Great Hearts Academies’ first open house is at the Cohn Adult Learning Center at 4805 Park Ave., Wednesday, Jan. 18, at 6:30 p.m.

The second community meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 19, at 6:30 p.m. in the Martin Professional Development Center at 2400 Fairfax Ave.

According to a press release, Great Hearts Academies is noted for its classical, liberal arts educational approach. Bezanson said his school doesn’t target particular demographics but simply offers a specialized curriculum.

“We want to serve students who want a classical, liberal arts education,” Bezanson said.

“That’s really our niche.”

Prior to the 2011 state legislative session, eligible charter school students had to qualify for federal free and reduced lunches. Accordingly, all charters in Nashville have historically sought to offer choice to students who come from impoverished families.

In the spring, state lawmakers changed the Tennessee charter law to allow total open enrollment into charter schools.

A possible Great Hearts Academies charter school near Vanderbilt –– if it becomes a reality, which is no guarantee –– would be located in a largely affluent part of town.

5 Comments on this post:

By: MusicCity615 on 1/10/12 at 7:05

Metro would like to add an elementary school downtown. This first charter school could be a viable option.

Whatever helps educated our children, I am 100% for.

By: pswindle on 1/11/12 at 8:54

The kicker is that the schools will be paid for with public money, but run privately.

By: Moonglow1 on 1/11/12 at 9:26

Moonglow1: here we go! Our tax dollars into the pockets of charter school owners. What is the purpose of any business. It is only to make a profit and that is as it should be. However education needs to be for all children thereby public. Non public education needs to be financed by parents not by taxpayers. Because of greed, Nashville will be littered with non performing schools which will close leaving students with nothing. Remember their only goal is to make a profit not to teach. The Republican way: Take your tax dollars and give them to a business so they can make a profit. Nice deal hey. Let us all apply and be charter school owners so we can get those free dollars too.

By: localboy on 1/17/12 at 10:46

"Instead of catering to only at-risk, economically disadvantaged students, parents and educators are looking for a charter that would target middle- and upper-class children as well." So, in other words, a private school accepting public funds, as pswindle noted.

By: Porter119 on 1/19/12 at 8:39

This whole deal sounded suspicious to me, so I did a bit on online research. I, personally, do not want my tax dollars used to further the extreme right-wing agenda.
I found this:
* Great Hearts' Board of Directors is overwhelmingly loaded in favor of extreme-right conservative public figures.

• The school's curriculum is designed to, supposedly, eliminate popular culture. Great Hearts uses this approach as an excuse to keep minority writers off their reading list and to restrict extracurricular activities, yet doesn't hesitate to support interscholastic football, basketball, etc. as tools to market their schools.

• Resources devoted to special education students lag far behind what's available in the public schools.

Everyone needs to be aware of this and we need to STOP IT NOW.