With predictable regularity, Greg Thompson drives Interstate 40 to and from Tennessee’s two largest school districts, Memphis and Nashville. As CEO of The Center for Tennessee Charter Schools Excellence, a so-called “charter incubator” started last year with the backing of Mayor Karl Dean to help support the expansion of charter schools in Nashville and Memphis, Thompson is charged with finding solutions to the complex problems of educating diverse, low-income, urban populations.
“We believe that the community needs more college-preparatory schools serving low-income populations,” Thompson said.
The incubator followed the passage of a new state law that increased the number of charter schools allowed in Tennessee while also upping the number of students eligible to attend.
Charter schools, publicly financed but privately operated, have gained momentum in Metro over the past two years, and the new charter incubator has already proved a major player.
The incubator, located at Cummins Station, provides training — including assistance in identifying teachers and board members, securing facilities, fundraising, human resources and management of staff — to fellows looking to establish new charter schools in Nashville. The nonprofit organization is an offshoot of Boston-based Building Excellent Schools.
“Incubator is a good name because we are starting new schools,” Thompson said. “But we’re also going to provide some technical assistance to existing schools.”
In November, the Metro Nashville Board of Education approved charter applications from the first two fellows who transplanted to Nashville to accept guidance at the incubator. Next fall, Liberty Collegiate Academy, founded by Linda Mendez, is set to open in East Nashville, while Nashville Prep, started by Ravi Gupta, is slated for north Nashville. Both schools will serve students in grades 5 through 12.
Moving forward, the role of the incubator for new and existing charter schools is likely to expand. Thompson said he hopes to open 10 new charter schools in Nashville over the next five years. He hopes to launch the same number in Memphis.