Dean endorses Coverstone for charter schools job

Monday, June 29, 2009 at 12:03am

School board member Alan Coverstone has considered resigning his seat on the board to accept a new Metro Nashville Public Schools position overseeing the implementation of new charter schools policies.

Should he take the plunge, he’ll have one prominent supporter.

Mayor Karl Dean said Friday that he thinks Coverstone would be a good match for the job. The new position could be a starting point for building the kind of “incubator” Dean hopes Nashville will create for high-quality charter schools.

“He would certainly be somebody who would be ideal for that, since he was a strong advocate for charter school reform in Tennessee,” Dean said. “I’m gratified to hear that Dr. Register and the board are considering stepping up their efforts in the charter school area. I think there is probably a need for an incubator to help create the charter schools we need, and to help recruit the high-quality national charters to Nashville.”

Pointing to the nonprofit organization New Schools for New Orleans as a model for Nashville, Dean said he would like to see Nashvillians partner to recruit and develop good charter schools. Whether a charter school “incubator” is housed within the school system or created through a public-private collaboration, Dean wants to work quickly to get a structure in place for deliberate charter school recruitment.

Dean said development of such an incubator “could be” a use of Education First dollars, funds Dean raises from private sources to fund public education initiatives. He added that he is “open to” planning discussions now, and hopes serious talks will take place in the next few weeks. Plans should be made with an emphasis on preparing for the charter school review cycle coming up one year from this fall.

“Obviously, I want to work collaboratively with the schools to make sure we don’t do any duplication. I will be interested to know exactly what their emphasis is going to be,” Dean said. “There’s an opportunity to go about this in a real thoughtful, deliberate way, where the emphasis is on quality.”

Officials with Metro Nashville Public Schools said Friday that the district still has not determined plans for a new charter school office. According to the district’s description for the position, the 12-month administrative job would involve managing the charter school application process and overseeing regulatory requirements for compliance, as well as working with the Tennessee Department of Education and as a liaison between charter schools, private schools and MNPS.

Coverstone now works as the academic dean at Montgomery Bell Academy. He was elected to the board last year and represents Bellevue and parts of Belle Meade. Should he leave his position on the school board, a replacement would be appointed by Metro Council.

Asked to respond to a spreading rumor that he was leaning toward applying for the position and resigning from the board should he be hired, Coverstone said, “it would be unusual, I think, if I weren’t interested in that position.”

Coverstone has been a staunch advocate for charter schools, which recently had their scope expanded by state legislation.

“Anybody who’s as into education and making a change as I am ought to be excited about this job opportunity. It would be foolish for me not to be interested,” Coverstone said. “I have a good job and I enjoy what I’m doing on the school board. … You’d like to know my top choice? I’d like to see a dynamite candidate come take this job, who has a great vision and is smarter than I am and ready to go. That would be my ideal. But I can’t underscore enough how important I think it is that it be done and be done well.”

Charter schools, which are publicly funded and privately operated, have seen some success in Nashville. The state legislature recently approved big changes to Tennessee’s current charter school laws, which allow expanded charter school eligibility and set a cap of as many as 20 charter schools that can be established in Nashville.

Metro Nashville Public Schools currently has three charter schools in operation: LEAD Academy, Smithson-Craighead, and KIPP Academy.

Two new charter schools — Smithson-Craighead's middle school and Global Academy — will start serving students this fall.

Once they are part of the school system, charter schools must meet the same federal and state educational guidelines as other public schools. Charter schools receive local and state funding, but no public funds for building or transportation.