Great Hearts ends push for Nashville charter school

Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 6:54pm

Updated: 6:50 p.m.

One day after running into another round of resistance at the Metro school board, Great Hearts Academies announced late Wednesday it would no longer be pursuing authorization of its proposed Nashville charter school.

“It is evident at this point that, with this hostile board as the charter authorizer, a successful school opening would be impossible for Great Hearts even if we were able to obtain a charter,” Great Hearts’ leadership team said in a statement.

“Great Hearts may decide to apply for a charter in the future when Tennessee’s laws and charter approval process more effectively provide for open enrollment, broad service to the community and impartial authorizers.”

The announcement came less than 24 hours after the Metro school board voted 5-4 to deny the Phoenix-based charter organization’s application for its proposed West Nashville charter school — marking the fourth time the local board opted against its approval. The Tennessee State Board of Education had ordered Great Hearts’ authorization, but Metro defied that order on two occasions.

Great Hearts officials, who thanked Nashville families along with state and Metro officials in its statement, didn’t rule out the possibility of seeking entry into Nashville in the future.

“Once conditions improve, we are hopeful that all Nashville parents will have the option of choosing Great Hearts as another academically rigorous public school available to their children,” the statement reads.

Wednesday’s announcement — which few observers expected — ends the months-long saga of Great Hearts, which arrived in Nashville as the first charter proposal here that would explicitly take advantage of the state’s new open enrollment law. Previously, charter students had to qualify for free and reduced lunches. No longer beholden to the old law, the proposed West Nashville charter attracted an affluent audience.

Many Nashville parents welcomed Great Hearts as a remedy for expensive private schools and academic magnet schools with long waiting lists, but Metro school board members have continually questioned the group’s commitment to diversity.

“Make no mistake: We are setting a precedent here tonight about what we will expect in our system and what we expect from our schools that will be far-reaching and that will affect many children, including my own,” new board member Amy Frogge said Tuesday before voting against Great Hearts.

In its statement, Great Hearts’ leadership team characterized the Metro school board as being untruthful about its diversity plan — and a board that “will do anything to block it and Great Hearts, even to the point of disregarding facts and willfully violating state laws.”

Following the news of Great Hearts’ exit, its supporters expressed regrets.

“It’s unfortunate that one of the most successful charter management organizations in the country has shown a deep interest in Nashville and found a hostile a climate for opening,” said school board member Michael Hayes, a Great Hearts’ backer. “I hope that the board’s actions last night do not permanently dissuade other successful CMOs from coming to Nashville.

“The other piece that won’t go away is our board openly violated state law, and there might be repercussions for that.”

Great Hearts’ retreat perhaps explains why the Tennessee Department of Education — which has previously said Metro is violating state law for not approving the school — refrained from commenting on the issue Wednesday.

“The department will not be offering a comment at this time,” spokeswoman Kate Shellnutt said Wednesday morning, a statement that had held true by the end of the workday.

As The City Paper reported over the weekend, state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman had early on sought to help Great Hearts, even before the charter organization had appealed Metro’s prior rejections to the state where it won an ordered authorization in August.

The Metro-state clash on Great Hearts could raise speculation on whether state legislative measures could be in store for the next session to avoid such charter battles over open enrollment in the future.

Following the group’s announcement, a Great Hearts official from Phoenix spelled out its position to The City Paper: Great Hearts is no longer pursuing this particular charter application with Metro Nashville Public Schools.

But the group’s statement added, “We are hopeful that the state will take action so that, in the future, Great Hearts can reapply to a different, impartial charter authorizer.”

Some charter advocates have pushed for a statewide charter authorizer that would effectively negate the role of local boards such as Metro in the approval process. Huffman, however, in emails The City Paper made public, said such a measure, though worth discussing, would be a “long climb” in the state legislature next year.

The creation of statewide charter authorizer, however, would seemingly be one avenue for Great Hearts to open shop in Nashville in the future.


36 Comments on this post:

By: Toosmart4owngood on 9/12/12 at 5:32

The time is ALWAYS right to do what is right! This is a victory for the people of Nashville who deserve to not have their tax dollars taken to create their own publicly funded private school. Good job former MNPS board and brand new board. I am proud to be a Nashvillian,

By: pswindle on 9/12/12 at 6:16

Thanks school board, a job well done.

By: Strider on 9/12/12 at 6:59

Just so I understand this issue better, are those who have commented in support of the school board decision against charter schools completely as an alternative? And if not, what is it about this particular request that was a negative? Thanks.

By: dogmrb on 9/12/12 at 9:25

Not against charter schools. GH was an EMO masquerading as a charter! Look it up.

By: HamBoneHamBone on 9/12/12 at 10:18

Mediocrity is the aspiration for MNPS.

To borrow a quote from the 'Dores, "ANCHOR DOWN, MNPS! ANCHOR DOWN!"

(You guys are doing a great job of anchoring down the dreams of your children. What a shameful lot you school board members are.)

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By: Loner on 9/13/12 at 5:44

I salute the Metro School Board for standing their ground.

We heard the "good reasons" for allowing GH to set up business in Nashville....but the school board saw through that smokescreen and recognized the "real reasons" for the proposal.

This is all about union busting.... firing experienced teachers and replacing them with non-union TFA neophytes with little or no classroom experience.

The program benefits the new hires, by paying off their student loans and by providing resume material for these recent college grads.

White folks who are tired of shelling out the big bucks to keep their kids in a segregated learning environment, were looking forward to taxpayer assistance for their white supremacist ambitions. Great Hearts was supposed to be the charter school for the affluent whites in Metro....with a few token minorities, of course.

Educational Commissioner Kevin Huffman, a former TFA teacher, was looking forward to helping out TFA by providing more venues for their non-union, fledgling "teachers".

The Tea-bagging legislature will now try to create a statewide authorizing agency...a single commissioner, appointed by the Governor, will then be able to shove these charter schools down the throats of every community in Tennessee.....the "limited government" conservatives are acting like socialists on this particular issue.

Governor Haslam has to go....meanwhile keep an eye on this Huffman character...he is pissed off and his job may be in danger....he's a desperate man right now.

The long-range answer: Rebuild and integrate your public school system... sadly, it has greatly decayed since the federal Civil Rights law was passed. Clinging to the segregationist ideals has been absolutely destructive in the Old South...time to finally get with the program.

By: MusicCity615 on 9/13/12 at 7:25


Go to Chicago and run around with your "experienced", crazy, greedy teacher union bullies who think that taxpayer-funded $76k average pay per year BEFORE benefits is not enough even though they have some of the WORST passing records in the nation and have the SHORTEST school day.

Enough with that nonsense. Enough with doing what's "right" for all the bullies and money-sucking members of Tennesse's teacher's union. Tennessee has repeatedly finished in the BOTTOM three in Americ'as education system for YEARS and it's people like you that say now is the time to "rebuild and integrate the public school system"....

We've tried that. The current system has failed. The "experienced" teachers you stand up for have FAILED. It's time to add more ALTERNATIVES to our education system. Would I prefer this charter school to be in a less affluent neighborhood? Yes, but at the end of the day, I do not support denying altneratives to our failing public education system like you do, because it's our CHILDREN that matter most, not the "experienced" public union bullying teachers who demand to work from 9am to 2pm on the taxpayers' dime, failing our children's education, taking summers off, and demanding high salaries and pensions. ENOUGH.

Improve our public schools, improve our private schools, improve our total education investment by adding in as many alternatives so our children have as many options available.

By: frodo on 9/13/12 at 7:28

A lot of people stand their ground. Sure, how admirable for the School Board to stand their ground. So do TeaPartiers, Occupiers, party platform voters (oops, okay, well sometimes not), the dog down the street, etc. The popular odor blowing through otherwise civil society (and cheered on by the White House) seeks to de-humanize the wealthy and the "non-ethnic" (whatever that is...I'm a I get to call myself "ethnic"?). Worse yet, we are taught that such people deserve nothing out of the public pot they so richly endow. They may only payers, only, never takers. This is why people cross over Old Hickory (south) into the next county. Run a school that is 85% a certain race, and no one has a problem with that. Operate a school set up to cater to those who prefer a foreign language, and we celebrate. There is a point where the finger that points "racism and classism" becomes so strong and so blind that the fingers on the hand that point back to the owner tell the real story. So, hello bigots. That is what you are.

By: thereitis on 9/13/12 at 7:29

If we stop to think about this...a charter school that produces high school graduates with an average ACT score above 27 was just run out of town. There is every conspiracy theory possible as to why running them out of town was a briliant idea. Tennessee has one of the lowest performing public education systems in the industrialized world.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

By: frodo on 9/13/12 at 7:31

...and to be clear, I'm talking about Loner and the school board members who stand their ground just like George Wallace and his troopers did long ago.

By: ballmark17 on 9/13/12 at 7:56

The MNPS Board (Board) was not hostile. Their conversation and deliberation in the board meeting this week was balanced and thoughtful and they considered and acknowledged what GH had done in attempt to fix what the Board felt was wrong with their charter application. The Board also acknowledged what the State had done in support of the Board in their negotiations with GH. The Board was humble enough to acknowledge their own flaws (Will Pinkerton's comments). However, in the end, they could see through the less than pure intentions of GH and to a lesser degree the State. They may even be wrong in their assessment and if so, at least they've erred on the side of prudence. Charter schools are not dead and GH will live to see another day and can reapply. However, they need to pay attention to their customer's (MNPS Board) requirements (however flawed) and do not attempt another end-around through the State.

I'm really disappointed in the Mayor and the State (Huffman) for their intimations or outright threat of legal maneuvers. School reform is as complicated as healthcare reform and the Board is pioneering new ground int he form of charter schools. They're not hostile to charter schools, they're discerning, which is where we need them to be. They did their job well in advocating for MNPS students. That they were willing to break the law in order to do it tells me that we have the right advocates in these seats on the Board. These are passionate, thoughtful, intelligent, and dedicated citizens (read their bios here: and they should be supported by the State without having to look over their shoulder worrying about legal shrapnel while their helping MNPS pioneer new ground.

If GH wants to try again I get the impression that the Board will welcome their application. If GH can partner with the board and offer a solution to one of the many problems the Board is charged with solving, they should not need "legal cover" to get their charter application approved.

I think that Kevin Huffman and the State Board of Education needs to dial back their legal rhetoric (even if they're standing on solid constitutional ground) and let a very able (but new) MNPS board get its footing. They are passionately committed to the right thing and they have already acknowledged the error of their ways regarding a clear articulation of a diversity policy. Kevin Huffman should offer support to help them clarify their diversity policy. GH should offer similar support to the MNPS Board, which would go a long way in improving their relationship with the Board.

By: ballmark17 on 9/13/12 at 7:59

If the State, Great Hearts, and the MNPS Board want to do something for children and make a statement about diversity, how about modeling for them what it looks like to collaborate effectively to solve problems in spite of your diverse points of view. How about showing our children that our diverse points of view are a source of strength that we're trying to reinforce with a diversity policy in the first place. Lets not teach them that if they can't talk effectively with each other they can always go to court.

By: MusicCity615 on 9/13/12 at 8:26


great points, but if you break the law, you have to accept the consequences. Maybe it would have been more productive to not break the law and have cooperative talks.

By: KENW on 9/13/12 at 8:42

Metro School Board fails again. Amy Frogge is a failure as a representative of her district. How embarrassing that our school board and Amy Frogge are actually fighting to keep quality education opportunities away from the students of Nashville. This school board and Amy Frogge do not have your child's education in mind, they are fighting for ignorance.

By: Specter47 on 9/13/12 at 8:48

This is a sad, sad day for Nashville and its students. The bully Board won out for the time being, but as Great Hearts has said, “Great Hearts may decide to apply for a charter in the future when Tennessee’s laws and charter approval process more effectively provide for open enrollment, broad service to the community and impartial authorizers.” Key words here are "impartial authorizers". That will be almost impossible as the Board retains its racist members...those who hate whites and see public schools as only an entitlement for black and other minority children. All children are not equal in the eyes of the Metro Nashville School Board, and "broad service" is not what they're looking for.

By: MusicCity615 on 9/13/12 at 8:52

Amy Frogge just lost my vote.

By: firstworldproblems on 9/13/12 at 9:36

Ballmark17, I agree with you. I don't think that in looking at Great Hearts, it is necessary to trash the record of Metro. MNPS works with a really difficult population of students, as a whole, and it's not fair to label the entire system as a failure. If nothing else, the Great Hearts debate brought to light the fact that there is a great disparity in the demographics within the district, with many schools doing well on the west side, while many schools closer into downtown don't do so hot. While this isn't surprising, it really isn't something that should be blamed on teachers, or students, or parents, or any one thing. It does need to be fixed though, that much is true.

Is the answer more charter schools? Possibly, although that is more of a band-aid, rather than a treatment. I understand the urgency with which some parents want to act on behalf of their children, as they feel that a place like Great Hearts is the "only" place that their child could get a quality education in Nashville. But please understand that that is really not true. There is challenging curriculum at every school, there just unfortunately are not enough students taking advantage of it. There are great teachers in Metro, trust me. With the amount of work this new evaluation system is asking of teachers, the bad ones are leaving in droves - it has them running scared.

In the end, trying to compare a school like Great Hearts to most of the schools in Nashville as a means of getting the school here is pretty silly. It's like comparing Nashville to Williamson County - apples to oranges. Poverty is a proven yardstick for substandard test scores and general academic success. So, with our free/reduced lunch rate, we are going to have lower scores. Getting Great Hearts here, putting all of the top performers in that school, and then using their data against Metro's in order to point fingers and say "Ha! I told you so! Metro is ineffective and a complete failure!" would be ridiculous. Instead, we should be looking at how the community, especially our education commissioner, can work with the schools that are already in place, to support the thousands of students in Metro, rather than threatening to take money away from them. After all, this is about the children, right?

By: aky on 9/13/12 at 9:47

Listen. There is an underground buzz slowly getting louder and louder. A movement has started with this unfortunate situation being the launch pad. Legislation reform must happen for the charter movement to change the educational environment for Nashville and all of Tennessee. Great Hearts may be gone for now, but the parents who sought them out are not. There are a lot of us, and we will not go away quietly. Change is on the horizon. So get ready.

By: ballmark17 on 9/13/12 at 9:56

MusicCity615, As King George III witnessed and our Founding Fathers will attest, sometimes we need to break laws in order to break new ground. And as my father always says, "Pioneers are the ones walking around with arrows in their backs".

Lets not blindly subordinate the needs of 80,000+ students to the laws, which are one of many flawed variables that we need to contend with.

By: Rocket99 on 9/13/12 at 9:56

One guess is, people like the Commissioner of Education were afraid of what would come out as public record if this matter was settled in court.

I still think there were a lot of closed door, back room negotiations that happened before GH ever submeir application.

By: pswindle on 9/13/12 at 9:57

Great Hearts wanted to go only into neighborhoods where the parents could pay some, but not all of a private education for their children and the rest would come from Metro School System funds.

By: Rocket99 on 9/13/12 at 9:58

Considering that Gov. Haslam may be gone after th end of his current term, there may not be a lot of "reform" happening. Rumor has it he's already looking for greener pastures.

By: fair_minded on 9/13/12 at 10:17

while this debate is going on, maybe someone could explain something for me....

*why* do we use charter schools in the first place? If they have methods of teaching that are effective, why don't we just study those methods and implement them in public schools for ALL children to benefit from?

why are we taking public money and outsourcing/subsidizing private schooling??

By: firstworldproblems on 9/13/12 at 11:03

Fair_minded - It's not necessarily that the teaching methods are different. The key differences are that the student body generally pulls from a demographic of parents who are involved in their childrens' education, no matter their ethnic background/income level; the student body is smaller than that of a traditional public school; a charter school student can be asked to leave if their grades and/or behavior are not up to par (although this doesn't occur frequently); school days are longer; there is no focus on sports.

Traditional schools have tried to implement some of these things before, but parents and lawmakers have balked. Just last year, Bill Haslam lifted the cap on class sizes in high schools, and now many of us are struggling with over 40 students per section (that's over 200 students in Metro) in our classrooms, many of which were built to comfortably hold about 20-25. It is impossible to manage classes that are that big.

So, charters reap the benefits of any smaller school.

By: Loner on 9/13/12 at 11:06

Frodo, I had no idea that hobbits wore white muslin robes....and matching, pointy, conical hoods.... with eye holes...thanks for the heads up.

By: Loner on 9/13/12 at 11:14

It might be cheaper and better to educate secondary school students by way of internet connection to a cyber-classroom....let the kids remain home, or in some other safe environment, as they learn at their own pace and without peer pressure, bullying, hormonal distractions expensive busing and brick & mortar overhead costs to deal cafeteria costs etc.

Class size in such a model would be much less relevant to disciplinary issues and scholastic achievement.

Think about it.

By: firstworldproblems on 9/13/12 at 11:55

It could be a possibility, Loner, assuming that the students are motivated and disciplined enough to get the work done. I've always wished that online schools were more widespread, but the data overwhelmingly shows that they are not succeeding in their current format.

By: pswindle on 9/13/12 at 1:12

Larger class sizes happen when the Unions haved no voice. Let me take you back to Metro before Unions. Back in the 1970's, before unions, A teacher friend had 42 second graders, there was no Phy. Ed., the children did not have support for special needs. The Unions do as much or more for the students than for the teachers. But, without Unions, teachers have no rights. After the strike in Chicago, everyone will be better off. Tn will suffer in the long run woithout the protection of Unions. I can't even thik of 40 + students in a class in today's world. Come on Gov. Haslam stop taking TN back to the 70's.

By: MusicCity615 on 9/13/12 at 1:33

so let me get this straight pswindle-

Charter schools would help alleviate the large metro class sizes which I agree are a problem, yet you are against charter schools?

Charter schools are great for Nashville and great for Tennessee BECAUSE THEY HELP EDUCATE OUR CHILDREN.

That is the single most important truth that cannot be ignored. I hope we soon welcome charter schools and they set up here.

By: zebrotha on 9/13/12 at 2:34

One can use racist color judgments to segregate schools or integrate them. However, seating children in classrooms with socially approved color judgments has the same consequence, whether the color judgments are used to pursue segregation or diversity. That consequence, regardless of era, is adults who have mistaken their own ignorance for an education.

A fact validated by many of the comments here, unconsciously using racism to criticize it, by claiming today’s politically correct anti-white color judgments, that presume a universal stereotypical similarity of anti-black hostility, are the “remedy” for racism.

Had schools ever taught the truth, that the superior value of every human being to any other is found exclusively in cooperative individual action, a fact that relegates all physical characteristics, including every skin color, to complete irrelevancy, there would be no racism.

Neither would there be a perennially successful election platform of racial favoritism for the Democrats, that regardless of color favored is supported by the "educated" majority. Only the colors of America’s perpetual “good race/bad race” stereotypes ever change, never the racism behind the stereotypes. Who is to called “educators” who can tell the difference between a stereotype and a human being _only_ when someone uses a stereotype that is politically incorrect for their era.

By: Loner on 9/13/12 at 8:02


By: Balo on 9/14/12 at 3:48

To MC615 & Kenw... Amy voted correctly. However, her reason was misguided. Hopefully, Amy will support public education and try to improve it and not give in to the political pressure which she will experience. Charter schools do not improve public education.

You all are supporting the political machine to take over the schools and redistribute the money. In the election, certain numbers of people threw in the pot about $200,000. It was to get the fifth vote ( District 9) on the board and to get a return for their investment.

With Charter School owners, it is never about education ( it is about business) and it is always about the money. Know your history they are modern day "carpetbaggers".

MC615 you attack the greedy teachers in Chicago, but you are supporting the greedy investors who threw in all that money in the election. Cannot have it both ways.

By: govskeptic on 9/16/12 at 2:40

This Great Hearts matter has sure shown that "Truth is not important"
when it comes to competition within the Public School supporters or
should I say Zealots (who many send their children to Private Schools).

By: Specter47 on 9/17/12 at 12:46

Hey, Rocket99... "Considering that Gov. Haslam may be gone after the end of his current term, there may not be a lot of "reform" happening. Rumor has it he's already looking for greener pastures." Really? Where did this so-called rumor start? In your bathroom? Wishful thinking on your part, I'm sure.

By: mykidsmom2 on 1/9/13 at 5:28

It saddens me that because of ignorance, biases and political pressure, Nashville children will be denied access to one of the most outstanding educational opportunities available. I could cite the academic success students at Great Hearts academies achieve - the 97%+ Aims scores, the 98% graduation rate, 90%+ going to 4 yr college, that 2 of the 4 AZ schools that ranked top internationally in Global Report Card were Great Heart schools (with other 2 also Charters) - but that doesn't begin to sum up what these schools give the students. When deciding on a school for my son, I researched every available option, public, private, andall of the many charters AZ has. I chose Great Hearts and he, like almost every child there, is THRIVING. They don't just teach material, they create a love of learning and learning for its own sake. They grade on "sense of wonder and inquiry", on promoting GH values such as humility, integrity, friendship, wisdom, honesty and responsibility, they believe EVERY child can suceed at a high academic level in many different liberal arts & one-on-one tutoring is given as needed. My son is excited for the challenge, engaged in the work, proud of himself, adores and is adored by his classmates. There are no cliques, no fights, no pop culture at all. A charter is about a CHOICE - why would anyone want to take that choice away from parents? Clearly the teacher unions are threatened because Charters do not have to abide by their rules. They can hire (and do) the best teachers in the nation, not confined to those with the union's req. teacher's cert. They fire poor teachers, and reward those who's students are excelling. Great Hearts admissions are based on a lottery so ANY STUDENT of any race or financial situation may attend. And in AZ, the wating lists are in the 100s within a year of each school's opening. Lastly, the board's excuse of lack of transportation is a joke. It is a charter that receives $1,200 less per student than public schools do. It does not have the ability to provide public transportation, nor should it. As a charter, it requires parental volunteers to thrive, and the child needs involved, invested & dedicated parents to help the student succeed in the rigorous coursework. It may not be right for every parent, but that is the point of charter schools - it is the parent's, not the state's choice.