District anticipates charter school changes brought by new law, but is it ready?

Friday, June 26, 2009 at 12:00am

In the wake of a new state charter school law, Nashville’s public school district is taking steps to prepare for changes — but it may need more than one person to do that.

Currently, Metro Nashville Public Schools has a single staff position devoted to charter schools, but Director of Schools Jesse Register has said he’s thinking of expanding that position into an entire office.

Similarly, a district work group recommended the creation of such an office several months ago. Alan Coverstone, a school board member who served on the group, said a charter school office could not only facilitate an improved application process, but could work with Register to identify district needs and recruit appropriate charter schools to the system.

“I’m afraid we’re going to get a lot of applications very quickly,” Register said.

The director told school board members Tuesday that the district should consider options for gearing up soon, but didn’t mention increasing staff.

Recruitment could possibly be accomplished with the help of Mayor Karl Dean, Coverstone said. Dean said publicly after the law passed that he’d like the Mayor’s Office to be involved in seeking out new charter schools for 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.

Though the new law will bring changes for the state, Coverstone said it might take time for “high-quality” charter school applications to reach the district.

“Anybody who’s started an application after the law change, or even in the midst of that, is really behind for this year’s application process,” Coverstone said. “I don’t want anybody to get the idea that there’s going to be a whole host of new applicants this fall who are going to be of really high quality. There may be some people who we meet who eventually become high-quality, after they work at it awhile.”

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.