Great Hearts: How charter operator lost, the political fallout and what happens now

Sunday, September 23, 2012 at 10:05pm
Kevin Huffman (Courtesy state of Tennessee)

As newly minted Metro school board chair Cheryl Mayes tallied the votes of her eight colleagues on the night of Sept. 11, it became apparent a split show-of-hands had emerged on Great Hearts Academies.

The next vote — which belonged to her — would swing things one way or the other: a reluctant go-ahead for the Phoenix-based charter organization that rode confidently into West Nashville but faced repeated resistance over student diversity concerns, or yet another rejection, which would defy a state board of education order to authorize.

Mayes, who had voted down Great Hearts’ charter school proposal multiple times before, tipped the scale that way one more time. “My hand is up as opposed.”

Events weren’t supposed to go down this way, according to onlookers inside the boardroom that night. In fact, sources involved in the Great Hearts battle tell The City Paper that Director of Schools Jesse Register hoped and believed the votes were in hand for approval. The Great Hearts mess — an epic clash that has produced no winners — would end. The school district would shake off defeat but move on.

That evening, not one board member asked Register to publicly offer his recommendation.

Register, however, confirmed to The City Paper last week that he had indeed privately advised each board member to approve Great Hearts’ proposal, but rejected the notion of making a forecast: “I gave advice, but I don’t count votes.”

“My recommendation to the board members, individually, was to approve the charter because of the directive from the state board,” Register said. “However, I also — as do many of the board members who voted both ways — have had concerns about the charter application, and whether or not that was the best thing for the district.”

Register’s advice to bow to the state order apparently wasn’t persuasive enough. Not helping Great Hearts’ prospects for victory, observers say, were emails from state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, published by The City Paper days before the vote, which showed the state’s top education leader had plotted ways around the Metro school board early on to try to ensure the authorization of Great Hearts’ charter application.

Local officials, it turns out, don’t appreciate meddling from above.

“Over the weekend, we discovered that not only was the state board of education encouraging Great Hearts to appeal, they were driving the bus,” board member Anna Shepherd fired off before voting to deny the West Nashville charter school that a throng of affluent parents have pushed as a remedy for their wariness of public schools. 

Reasons for disapproval are now secondary, of course. The school board that night voted 5-4 to reject Great Hearts — marking the fourth time it had balked at signing off on the charter. Great Hearts officials confirmed the next day that they would be abandoning this particular charter proposal for Nashville.

One week later, Gov. Bill Haslam and his education commissioner, Huffman, announced Sept. 18 the state had opted to withhold $3.4 million in “non-classroom” funding from Metro that is outlined in the state’s Basic Education Program funding formula. Huffman delivered the message not with a phone call to Register, but in a straight-to-the-point notice that referenced state statue that affords the education department this authority.

“It is extremely unfortunate that MNPS has chosen to go down this path ...” Huffman wrote to Metro’s superintendent.

The Great Hearts quarrel had blown completely open. And moving forward, the effects are far-reaching.

The state department of education’s relationship with Metro Nashville Public Schools — Tennessee’s second-largest school district — is in its worst shape in years following the dispute. Meanwhile, the Metro school board’s relationship with its own mayor, Karl Dean, is equally rocky. Dean, a Great Hearts backer who calls public education his No. 1 priority, has admonished the board for its “refusal to follow the law.” He called the state’s withholding of funds a “predictable result” of the board’s action and did not criticize the move.

The mayor is in a curious situation. Often hailed as Tennessee Democrats’ best hope as a competitive candidate for statewide office one day, Dean is oddly aligned with Haslam and tea party favorite Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey on the Great Hearts matter.

Indeed, what first arrived as a local fight over “school choice” and diversity has now spilled over to Capitol Hill where a Republican-dominated legislature and GOP governor could be the ultimate arbiters at a time when cities like Nashville grapple with the growth of publicly financed, privately led charters. Legislation for a new statewide authorizer — which would effectively negate local boards’ authority to approve charters — is already in the works by pro-charter lobbyists.

A partisan war is brewing in a statehouse where Republicans virtually always win. While Ramsey and Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell have supported Huffman’s decision to withhold money from Metro, members of Nashville’s state Democratic delegation have blasted the move.

Events have spiraled a multitude of directions nine months after Great Hearts arrived to offer their brand of liberal arts and classics-centered curriculum. Its first Nashville community meeting in January — a packed house at the Cohn school building near Sylvan Park — seems so long ago. 



Last week, the Republican leadership trio of Haslam, Harwell and Ramsey, along with Huffman, presented a unified front as they defended the move to withhold funds at a press conference inside the Adventure Science Center. State leaders were there for an unrelated press announcement, but Great Hearts took the spotlight.

The governor, flanked by his allies, told reporters that the state took no pleasure in keeping funds from Metro, making the case that the state was simply enforcing the law. When Metro — against the legal counsel of its own attorneys — rejected Great Hearts, the board defied a state order to approve.

“We don’t do this with any sense of trying to use the state’s power in any way,” Haslam insisted. “But like another state law that the General Assembly passes, we’re responsible for enforcing that law, and that’s why we took this action.”

Despite this position, it appears other options besides monetary punishment may have been discussed. Asked whether this was the case, Haslam told reporters that his administration “talked about certain things” and then pivoted to Huffman to see whether the commissioner wished to elaborate. Huffman declined.

Huffman, a former Teach for America executive tapped by Haslam as commissioner in early 2011, pointed to a meeting he had with Register the day after a prior Great Hearts rejection on Aug. 14. Withholding funds had already been discussed before, and Huffman suggested he presented it is as viable option at this gathering.

“We were quite clear about what the possible outcomes would be if the law was violated again,” Huffman said last week.

Register, however, recollected the meeting but said he couldn’t recall exactly what was said about sanctions at that time.

“It was a surprise to us when we got the notification this week,” he said.

Emails The City Paper publicized the previous week revealed Huffman had kept constant tabs on Great Hearts for months and had made it part of his agenda to see it approved. Asked last week about his keen interest in this single charter proposal, he suggested it’s all part of his position. “Part of my job is to make sure that we have good, high-quality schools in Tennessee — period.”

The impact of lost dollars — and whether school employee positions could be lost — is still unclear. Haslam said the state aimed “as much as possible” at ensuring the loss of funds wouldn’t affect students. The $3.4 million sum is equal to Metro’s October portion of “administrative costs” that come from BEP funds.

But Metro school officials have suggested the state is mischaracterizing the portion of funds, arguing that there are no BEP dollars earmarked for administrative purposes. The BEP formula for “non-classroom expenses” includes utilities, maintenance and student transportation and other things that “directly affect” students, MNPS said in a statement.

“We haven’t had any discussions about any reductions that we would make yet,” said Chris Henson, the district’s chief financial officer, later confirming one option could be to dip into the district’s rainy-day funds. “As we always are, we’ll be thoughtful about it, purposeful about it and methodical and not rush to make a quick decision. It’s especially difficult because it’s a reduction in the middle year.”

Register said the district is “concerned” about the loss of funds. “I hope the commissioner reconsiders and reinstates the money.”

Huffman and board chair Mayes were to meet last Friday to discuss the decision to keep funds from Metro. Yet Mayes, in a letter to Huffman that prompted the meeting, showed no signs of relenting on the board’s concerns over Great Hearts and its commitment to diversity.

“For us ‘diversity’ is not a political term,” Mayes wrote, as she reminded the commissioner Nashville only emerged from federal-mandated desegregation in 1998 and serves a student population that is three-fourths low-income. “Diversity is a real concern in our community, and we take seriously our obligation to promote it.”

In denying Great Hearts its application to launch a Nashville school in 2014, board members have said the charter school failed to deliver on three state-mandated contingences — namely, the one that required Great Hearts to produce a diversity plan that “mirrors” Metro’s plan for choice schools. But Mayes, in her letter, suggested Great Hearts failed to uphold much larger mandates as well.

“While you assert the local school board broke the law, we were acting as responsible, duly-elected and duly-sworn public officials upholding the U.S. Constitution and its Equal Protection Clause,” Mayes wrote.



Great Hearts officials have not abandoned hopes to one day expand to Nashville — just this particular charter proposal. They’ve expressed optimism that the state would “take action” to ensure that Great Hearts in the future can reapply to a “different, impartial charter authorizer.”

This hope comes from a charter organization that has maintained steady communication with Huffman, among other state officials, from the moment its proposal first went before the Metro board.

Matt Throckmorton, CEO of the Tennessee Charter Schools Association, the primary charter lobbying group in the state, told The City Paper he’s already in the process of drafting legislation for a statewide charter authorizer, which would allow charter applicants to bypass local boards for approval.

“Right now, we’re doing the research on it to try to come up with the most thoughtful way of approaching this,” Throckmorton said, adding that he would be finding sponsors for legislation that would address both the application process and “operating environment” once the school is approved.

“In other states, what they’ve done is they’ve created an independent statewide authorizer, and so it would have a board that would be appointed by various entities that are engaged in education throughout the state,” he said.

A statewide authorizer would presumably face stiff resistance from local boards across Tennessee, but the idea is now on the radar of lawmakers.

Haslam didn’t rule out backing such a proposal during the next legislative session. “Prior to this, I don’t think there was a lot of political momentum around it, but we’ll have to see how the General Assembly reacts to that this year,” he told reporters. “At this point in time, we haven’t finalized the legislative agenda for next year.”

Months ago, the Great Hearts dispute began showing signs of a fight between a faction on the left and one on the right. But partisan lines have hardened following Metro’s most recent denial, Great Hearts’ retreat and the subsequent withholding of funds.

Harwell, whose district includes some of the affluent neighborhoods that would benefit from Great Hearts, said she’s “very disappointed” in the Metro school board’s actions.

“Largely, I’m hearing from the public that they want choice for their schools,” Harwell said. “This was one avenue of choice that they would like to have seen in West Nashville.”

Her Democratic opponents have taken a different tone.

“What a terrible precedent it is for the commissioner of education to now reach into Nashville and take tax dollars from Nashville citizens because he personally doesn’t agree with the elected representatives of the people,” Nashville Democratic Rep. Mike Stewart said.

Stewart also targeted Huffman himself and the type of education reforms he’s backed.

“Commissioner Huffman has shown that he is not really interested in being an administrator but is a radical zealot of often-controversial education ideas and has consistently shown a complete indifference to the actual desires of the taxpayers who pay for the schools,” Stewart said.



Ironically, it was former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen who signed into law “First to the Top” legislation that catapulted Tennessee into the spotlight for pro-charter education reformers. The law paved the way for a new state Achievement School District, a governance body composed of low-performing schools that can now be turned over to charter groups. Controversial data-driven teacher evaluations have also resulted.

Diane Ravitch, a national education analyst and charter critic, has in recent weeks picked up on Nashville’s Great Hearts saga. “This is a power grab, and Democrats better wake up or lose public education,” she wrote on her blog last week. In the education world, Ravitch is seen as the counter to former Washington, D.C., Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, an aggressive reformer despised by union groups and a favorite of charter enthusiasts. (Rhee, who recently launched the lobbying group StudentsFirst, is the ex-wife of education commissioner Huffman)

In many ways, the Great Hearts saga is emblematic of a Ravitch-Rhee debate on education that is happening nationally — one vision of working within the traditional public education system versus a “data-driven” model that frequently leans toward charters.

Perhaps the most sharply worded response to Huffman’s decision to withhold funds came from former school board member Mark North, whose term ended last month.

In a three-page statement, North characterized Huffman’s move as a “heavy-handed, iron-fisted power play” aimed at punishing Metro schools because the board “had the audacity to question and resist Commissioner Huffman’s backroom deals with wealthy power brokers and charter school operators.”

North cited a City Paper story that revealed Dean, Huffman and other charter backers from the business community had coordinated to assist Great Hearts’ effort in Nashville. He called it “compelling proof of a backroom, conniving conspiracy. ... ”

But despite worries over the behind-the-scenes politics, one fact remains for Register to contend with. Great Hearts arrived in Nashville for a reason: A large group of middle- and upper-class parents are dissatisfied with the options available through Metro Nashville Public Schools.

The stories are familiar ones: The family that moves to Williamson County to attend what they perceive as better performing public schools; parents who enroll in private schools for the same reason; and the discouraged students who strike out in the district’s lottery system after hoping to attend one of Metro’s few academic magnet schools.

Some parents saw Great Hearts as a solution. For now, it is out of the picture. And the dilemma continues.

“They talk a lot about looking out for all the kids in the district, and that’s all they talk about,” said Haley Dale, a parent of students at Julia Green Elementary School, in the affluent Green Hills neighborhood, and a Great Hearts supporter. “But what about our kids?

“You have such a small shot of getting into these three great schools,” she said, referring to Metro’s academic magnet options. “That is what everybody was wanting Great Hearts to fill — just be another option, another avenue.”


30 Comments on this post:

By: GuardianDevil01 on 9/24/12 at 4:25

Can someone articulate to me exactly what are the board's reasons for denying the charter the right to operate? I keep hearing there were issues related to a diversity plan. Is there any evidence that Great Hearts has in the past, or was going to, intentionally exclude minority students from the opportunity to enroll? Or is the issue only that the operators of the school made the entirely rational decision to locate in a good neighborhood?

By: govskeptic on 9/24/12 at 5:30

I would suggest the losers were not Great Hearts, but what little respect remained
for the Metro School Board and Mrs. Mayes specifically, along with what faint
hopes remained for a vibrant Charter School program within our city.

By: frodo on 9/24/12 at 7:15

GardianD, the reason for opposition to Great Hearts is two fears. Fear #1 is that wealthy people might somehow benefit from the tax dollars they pour into the system. Fear #2 is that those trapped in the cycle of dependency might go to this school and find a way out. Okay, that is a bit of exaggeration. But it is the outcome, even if not everyone's intent. The voters have spoken. They elected a teacher's union fav over a school-choice advocate. Now we either live with it or we get out of town. I know which one I would choose if my children were school age.

By: District 8 on 9/24/12 at 7:57

frodo, I've called you on your biased (an inaccurate) view of the world continually interject negative comments about the teacher's union and their imagined involvement. "They elected a teacher's union fav over a school-choice advocate." Please explain the teacher's unions involvement in the Great Hearts story and who is their "fav?"

By: WickedTribe on 9/24/12 at 8:00

GD01, Great Hearts is not "free" like public schools. They require over $2000 a year in what's referred to as "backdoor tuition", including purchase of books and uniforms (these things are free at traditional public schools). Considering approximately 60% of the current public school students qualify for aid, such as free lunches, that means at most only 40% of the students could afford to get into Great Hearts. Therefore, our tax dollars would be subsidizing what is ultimately a private school for the privileged. This is typical Republican strategy: Use the tax money from everyone to benefit only the richest.

And of course Dean's stance was predictable. He ran his mayoral campaign on fixing the public schools, yet he has always had his own kids in private school. I'll never understand how he won his first term election.

By: on 9/24/12 at 8:05

The entire Great Hearts escapade was ridiculous.

It is very strange that a state commissioner was trying to bypass the authority of a local school board. Maybe not illegal, but it certainly seems unethical and underhanded. It is also strange that the Mayor lobbied on behalf of that particular school.

Maybe everybody can get back to they jobs they are being paid to do and let the Metro Board of Education also do the work they were elected to do, without interference.

By: localboy on 9/24/12 at 8:25

Wicked, on what page of the application were the fees that make up the $2,000 amount located?

By: jonw on 9/24/12 at 8:37

Once again Social Engineering is more important to the local school board than education.

By: GoodieTwoShoes on 9/24/12 at 8:43

I believe, in this instance, that the system worked as intended. Was great hearts the only charter school that was denied? Why is this entity being the most talked about? Why was is there so much behind the scenes action going on because of this one school? Why aren't we just as upset about the other charters that were denied? It also seems to me if the interest was to fix what we call these broken schools then why not fix what is broken. This school was denied, close the book, move on. If this Huffman fella really wanted to help, then stop trying to thunder down from above. Go to the schools, sit in some calssrooms, talk to teachers, students and parents. See what is needed. We all want what is best for the kids and these schools.

By: frodo on 9/24/12 at 8:50

District 8, you are sort of right to call me on my contention that the teachers union in all cases supported anti-school-choice candidates over school choice candidates. Rechecking the facts, in the key race I had in mind the MNEA bucked the trend trend by endorsing Ms. Dolan. How strongly they actually supported her as Ms. Frogge jumped to the lead is a question open to debate. My larger point remains--that those who want a good education for their children will do well to consider other options than Metro schools. Thank you, District 8 for the correction. Hope you will cut me a little slack. I grew up in public skools.

By: frodo on 9/24/12 at 9:03

Goodie2, the problem with the Great Hearts application had nothing to do with quality of education.

By: frodo on 9/24/12 at 9:07

WickedTribe, are you serious?! Republicans want to "Use the tax money from everyone to benefit only the richest"?? I think the rule here is more like "Never let the rich benefit from their own tax money. It is not their money (anymore), because we took it from them, and we will care not a whit for their spawn."

By: Specter47 on 9/24/12 at 9:25

It's clear that Metro School Board will not do whatever it takes for ALL children to succeed. They just want to keep the focus on those underprivileged kids, who do indeed need attention. But by giving them that attention, does it mean ignoring the needs of the other children in the so-called "affluent" neighborhoods? Or are ALL kids and their parents equal? Do the parents who pay taxes not deserve something back? Or are those taxes to be used only for the underprivileged children? The Metro School Board is unwittingly (or intentionally) playing to the doctrine of redistribution of wealth that we're hearing so much about in this election cycle. Multiculturalism, diversity, redistribution...all leftist, socialist doctrine that is destroying America, and we're seeing it play out right here in li'l ol' Nashville.

By: cowboyjoe on 9/24/12 at 10:43

here is a form from Great Hearts asks for a "community gift" of $1500 from parents:

And this one is how to pay Great Hearts$400 and qualify for a $400 tax credit:

Could some low-income parents come up with the money? Sure, but it looks an awful lot like a private school and a plan that's designed to deter/discourage low-income parents from sending their children there.

By: CPUsername on 9/24/12 at 10:50

I'm an "affluent West Nashvillian" with two kids in neighborhood public schools. There is a finite amount of money to be be spent by MNPS. Siphoning off money at the expense of all Metro's kids to pay out of state operators for the benefit of a select few students is bad for the kids and for Nashville's future. Let's improve all of the schools; if you care enough about education to complain, I challenge you to show up at your neighborhood school and volunteer in some capacity.

By: westisbest on 9/24/12 at 11:00

Why is it ok to discriminate against white kids from middle and upper class families? Where we live on the west side of town (gasp) we only have one public school choice. And trust me, it is not a good one. Other areas in town have lottery schools, charters, and a zoned school option. I guess if your parents choose to buy a house in a certain area, they are also forced to either accept the one, failing school they are zoned for or pay the money for private schools.
Metro schools will continue to fail. period. It is obvious that the school board has no desire to recruit kids from middle class or wealthy families that would bring up test scores. If so, those parents might actually expect accountability from the school system. And the school board and Register definitely don't want that. That is what is really boils down to. Pathetic. Amazing that 5 people on a school board can make such a poor choice for Metro schools.

By: ancienthighway on 9/24/12 at 11:54

I apparently missed whatever loophole is allowing the school board to siphon off monies that are supposed to go to schools in affluent neighborhoods.

No, I didn't miss it, there is no such loophole. If the more wealthy among us choose to send their children to private schools, so be it. But tax money isn't for support of private institutions, so if you don't feel you're getting your share enroll your children in public schools. From the comments I've read here and connected to other articles on this subject, there appears to be people who are treating the proposed charter school as their exclusive affluent alternative supported by tax money.

The ultimate goal is to improve education. The only way education is going to improve is with support from the State for funds and curriculum guidance, the local boards for administration, the school administration for day to day operation, the teachers for execution, and most importantly for the parents to provide the encouragement and motivation for the child and to teach the child the discipline needed to excel. If one of these elements oversteps its bounds, or if one of these elements don't do its tasks, the system will break.
Each parent needs to ask if they are doing what they should be doing. Many are. Many are not. The child's desire to learn and do well in school is a good indication of the parent's success in their part of education. Failure leads to teachers being torn between doing their job of educating and becoming surrogate parents. Adding a different type of school to the mix doesn't solve the problems; it only masks the problems for a couple of years.

If you truly want to improve education, get involved with your child and your child's school. Don't leave it to someone else.

By: chelle baldwin on 9/24/12 at 1:50

@GaurdianDevil01, you have asked a great question and I am happy to provide you with some information that came into play when the board decided to deny the GH application for the 4th time. In the interest of time I am going to copy a reply I gave to someone who asked the same thing you did. I will also attach a letter that I wrote prior to the board's final denial of GH. In it you will find many details surrounding the whole GH issue. The issue of diversity was not steeped in the definition from the 1960's so it was not a black vs white. The diversity that is outlined in the 6 priorities on the guidelines for charter schools had to do with socioeconomic children or Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL) kids as they are referred to in public school, English Language Learners (ELL) and Special Education students. Below you will find numbers from a chart that GH gave to Metro to show their "diversity" in their 12 charter schools in Phoenix. Only 1 of the 12 is a traditional charter school that serves those in poverty and the GH people that came to town readily admitted to parents that Teleos was a struggle and presented a lot of challenges for them as a charter company. Here is the list and my reply and then the link to the letter will be at the bottom.

Veritas (6-12) 465 kids 12% FRL (55.8 kids) 4% Spec Ed (18.6 kids) .2% ELL(1 kid)
Chandler (6-12) 664 5% FRL (33.2), 2% SP ED (13) .3% ELL (2)
Mesa (6-12) 369 12% FRL (7.38) 4% SP ED (14) 0% ELL
Scottsdale (6-12) 695 4% FRL (27.8) 1% SP ED (7) 0% ELL
Glendale (6-12) 346 7% FRL (24.2) 1% SP ED (3.4) 0% ELL
Teleos (1-8) 249 73% FRL (181.7) 8% SP ED (20) 1.2% ELL(3)
Anthem (3-11) 416 7% FRL (29.1) 3% SP ED (12.48) 0% ELL
Arch (chandler) (K-5) 504 6% FRL (30.2) 4% SP ED (20) 1% ELL(5)
Arch (classical) (K-5) 508 5% FRL (25.4) 3% SP ED (15.2) .2% ELL(1)
Trivium (6-7) 90 11% FRL(10) 2% SP ED (2) 0% ELL
Arch (Trivium) (K-5) 335 9% FRL (30.1) 2% SP ED (6.7) .6% ELL (2)
Arch Scottsdale (K-4) 382 1% FRL (4) 4% SP ED (15.2) 0% ELL

How can anyone say that they are diverse? Metro academic magnets average 28% FRL. Their special ed numbers are low (ex Hume Fogg 1%, Meigs .7% MNPS middle HS 1.1%) BUT they have academic requirements to get in! Great Hearts is supposedly an open enrollment school in AZ. Compare that to our zoned Middle and HS on the west side (JTM 33.3% FRL, 12% SP ED, West End 47.9%FRL, 13.6% SP ED, Hillsboro 45.6% FRL, 15.1% SP ED and Hillwood 58.9% FRL, 12% SP ED) Out of all of the GH AZ schools population of 5,023 they have 14 ELL students. 14!!!! They boarder Mexico!! Phoenix has a 30% hispanic population! Out of our 4 west side middle and HS there are 3,360 and of those 240 are ELL! So drastic numbers aside the crux of the problem is this. Great Hearts had NO intention of changing their business model to accommodate the student population that they would have here in Nashville if they did a TRUE open enrollment. IF they had they could have counted on an average of 12% SP ED and 9% ELL. Yet their 5 year faculty plan for Spec Ed and ELL was a mirror image of the numbers they have in AZ. Between 5 schools they had a total population of 3,082 and for that population they had 7 special education teachers. If you put our average of 12% on that population you will get a special ed teacher to student ratio of 1:52. Metro ratios are 1:18 Elem, 1:19 Middle and 1:20 HS. They had no intention of having high percentages of Special ed kids. AND to top it off they had 1 special education coordinator for ALL 5 schools. The job description for that person was to oversee all spec ed issues like compliance to IEP’s and what not as well as ALL the ELL students. So one person is going to monitor and enforce IEP compliance for 370 students AND deal with 277 ELL students. Seriously???? Of course not because they have a business model that does not include significant numbers from FRL, Spec ed or ELL. Unless of course it is for their one and only traditional charter school which they readily admitted to it being a struggle/challenge. If you pay attention to their final statement about pulling out of Nashville they in so much as said it straight up. The school "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.” What exactly is THEIR definition of open enrollment?

Their philosophy was also stated by the founder Jay Heiler "We have schools that land all over the map [in Phoenix]," Heiler says. "Some would be serving very middle-class folks by and large, we have one inner-city school that serves ethnic minority kids, and we have another one that would open that would be similar to that. In Tennessee it seems like there was more of a focus of bringing diversity into each school, whereas here we try to serve a diversity of communities." .

Bottom line is we all want a top notch quality education for our children. Why is it exactly that everyone is SO tied to this model of school? Why are so many people ok with opening up a segregated school system? Why do people want to go backwards? We have finally come to an point in our education system that special needs kids are not automatically shuffled into a segregated class. Why would anyone want to bring in a school model that keeps them out? Same goes for the ELL and the FRL. Why are so many people ok with leaving these kids behind? I truly do not understand it. Every child has the ability to achieve and it is the duty of our compulsory school system to provide them with the best educational opportunities possible. It is not the duty of our education system to only provide the best opportunities to our students that come from upper class homes. Great Hearts could have come to Nashville and looked at our population and adjusted their model to fit our needs. But apparently they did not want to do that so our board had no choice but to deny them again.

@Westisbest, I'm not sure where you live on the west side but I think you may be confused as to how Metro Nashville works. Each neighborhood has a zoned school and if the student does not want to attend that school they can apply to a lottery school that is either a magnet or an open enrollment school. This is true for ALL students in Metro, not just some in certain neighborhoods. As for the West side not having a charter we actually DO have a charter. It's the LEAD academy and it is housed in the old Brookmeade school building. Their doors have been open to anyone in Merto since the open enrollment charter law took affect in 2011. No one is discriminating against students with white skin that come from middle to upper income families. What is not clear is what exactly the families that were GH supporters are after exactly. When you say Metro schools will continue to fail what does that mean exactly? Are you zoned for a failing school? There are 6 in Nashville that are on the list and none of them are on the West side.

@ Specter47, Did you know that over 70% of the student population of 81,000 kids are free and reduced lunch? No one is ignoring the other 30% and the board is not trying to redistribute wealth to any particular population of students. GH certainly wanted to try which is why they were denied 4 times. For the students that are high achievers and desire an academic challenge there are IB programs in both West side middle schools as well as Hillsboro HS. Hillwood does not have an IB program but they do have an extensive list of AP classes available for those who want to go that route. So again, it is not very clear exactly what it is that people are looking for that they are supposedly not finding within Metro schools. Perhaps if they could articulate it beyond saying "Metro is not meeting my expectations" then Metro might be able to help them find what they are "expecting". I moved here from NY in 1995 and all I ever heard was this whispering murmur that Metro schools were not very good. No one actually had any kids of their own who had "failed out" or not been accepted into the college of their choice because they went to Metro schools. No one could point to any factual data of failing that applied to their middle to high income child. Now that I have two children in Metro I STILL can't find anyone who can back up the "Metro is terrible" claims with any real life experiences. It seems to me that this entire town has bought into and continually perpetuated the the misconception that our schools are all terrible and no one actually seems to care about hearing the truth they they aren't the nightmare that people make them out to be. Were there stories of teachers along the way that they didn't like, yep. Were there stories of bullying or peer pressure, yep. But if you can find me a public school anywhere in the US that does not experience those same issues then I will get on my magic carpet and fly to that utopia to find out how they do it. The middle to upper income students are entitled to just as good of an education as the children living in poverty and the board was trying to maintain that equality, period, end of story.

And guess what? The board was NOT lawless like GH said they were. They did their job and did it legally according to the TN State Attorney General.

By: mm80 on 9/24/12 at 3:07


@ Chelle Baldwin...oh ok, because Jamie Hollin is so well respected and all. And not crazy. Ok, right. If you listen to his blog as a source of information, I truly will not listen to anything you say. Why are you continuing to be so angry about GH? They pulled their application. It is time to move on. I am sure there will be LOTS of charters that will come along that you can waste your time arguing against. Meanwhile, MNPS schools are suffering, turning in horrid test scores, and failing to produce college ready graduates. Have you ever considered the fact that ELL students might actually have BRAINS OF THEIR OWN? Perhaps great hearts isn't appealing to them for various reasons? When people are allowed to make choices, and they choose different things, that doesn't mean that one place discriminates and another doesn't. Where are all of the ELL students complaints about discrimination? Where are ANY reports of discrimination? Seriously, this is getting old. You ought to be careful because you are about as close to slander as one can get.
Every child attending a great hearts school...even their parents...not one has any complaints. even teleos. no complaints. no why? because they are so freaking glad they are getting an awesome education and are prepared for college they wouldn't dare. Apparently in Nashville we are too stupid for this concept.

By: CitizensWin on 9/24/12 at 3:44

@ chelle baldwin


You have made a great argument backed with facts and links that affect all charter applications going forward Thank You

@ mm80

Sour grapes make for a bitter whine.

By: chelle baldwin on 9/24/12 at 11:30

@mm80 I find it pretty comical that you are telling me to move on when I actually answered a valid question about GH that was prompted by an article about GH. Interesting take on the ELL kids just being too smart and not wanting to have anything to do with GH. You may be right, perhaps they are smart enough to have figured them out and not want to be bothered with them. But that does not negate the fact that we have an average 9% population of ELL students in Nashville and the GH faculty plan did not have adequate staffing that reflected our ELL percentage via open enrollment. Not sure what you are referring to as "slander". Public records are just that, public. I'm curious how you know that "not one has any complaints". Are you in AZ? Do you have kids in all 12 of their schools and have spoken with everyone that has attended those schools and their families. Or perhaps all the people who were unable to attend those schools?If so I would think getting the opinions of over five thousand current students and their families would make for a lot of talking. But I'll take your word for it since you are a man or woman or kid or well.... come to think of it I guess I don't know who/what you are since you choose to hide behind an anonymous screen name. But I'm sure you are honorable and well intentioned so I will just go with that until you say otherwise. :) Thanks for your interesting perspective on this whole issue.

By: westisbest on 9/25/12 at 6:22

chelle baldwin
lottery schools have a preferred zone. we do not live in a preferred zone for any lottery school. I do know how it works. Lead is a horrible school. Show me the test scores there and how diverse that school is?? Why is it ok that LEAD is NOT "diverse" but its ok because it isn't mostly white kids? There are plenty of charters around Nashville that aren't diverse at all!! They are predominantly one segement of the population. This argument is so old and ridiculous especially becasue the "diversity" only applies to whites. And I am not sending my kids to a middle or high school that has cops standing outside every morning as kids get off the bus-Hillwood. Have you driven by Hillwood lately? The place is in shambles. It is pathetic. We want better alternatives for our kids but I guess that is too much to ask. When GH came along, we had hope that just maybe there would be an option where that the community, teachers, and leaders would support. Families that care and support their kids would attend there, not just "wealthy". And as far as driving your kids to school, participating in fund raisers, actually being active as a parent..-why do people continue to act like this is too much to ask of parents. In one breath you say, "parents need to get involved" and then act like you can expect a thing from them.

By: chelle baldwin on 9/25/12 at 8:59

I see what you are saying about the lottery schools now. Wasn't very clear in your other post. But the option is still there for anyone to lottery in even if they are not in the preferred zone. Prior to the open charter enrollment law change last year you had to qualify for attendance at a charter school and one of the qualifications was financial status. So it would stand to reason that the charter schools would be mostly FRL students since the middle to upper income families supposedly looking for charter choices have not enrolled en mass since the law was enacted. I'm pretty sure that because Brookmeade was failing and being turned into a charter the families there were given the option of continuing on at that school or moving to another school that was on a list of alternatives. I think most if not all of them chose to move on which left the charter with it's traditional population when it opened. You stated that there are no charters on the west side. I stated that in fact there is and anyone can enroll in it. I'm curious how you came to the conclusion that it is a horrible school if you are asking me what their test scores are or what the student population make up is. I wonder if anyone that's actively looking for a charter option on the west side even stepped foot in that school to see what it is like. As for the argument getting old, I suppose you are right. I'm getting pretty tired of those in support of GH trying to claim this is about discrimination against white kids and their educational needs. As I said before and will say again, we are in a unified school district and are not under any mandate to diversify our schools by race. We are not living in 1960 and this is not about skin color, this is about socioeconomics and integration of those who have learning disabilities and those who are english language learners. Those kids come from all racial backgrounds including my white middle class daughter. Your last statements pretty much hit the nail on the head. Your desire for a school that would populate itself with "families that care and support their kids" sounds absolutely wonderful and frankly we should want that for every school in Metro. But it is a bit shortsighted in that you are assuming that just because a parent can't drive their kid to and from school everyday or can't get a bus to and from their home to attend a PTO meeting or an event that they don't care about the school or support their child in their education. It would be FABULOUS if everyone had the means and job schedule to drive their kid across town to get to and from school or to attend an event but the reality is they don't and to penalize those kids by not extending the same education opportunity is not something the board was willing to do. It is not too much to ask of parents to get involved. Quite honestly if even 25 % of the parents at our school or any school for that matter would step up and help out the results would probably knock everyone's socks off. If all the energy, money and support that was behind GH was directed at the schools that are supposedly "not meeting the expectations" of the parents of future students there is no telling what positive changes could happen to the culture of those schools. But like I said in my original post it seems (to me) that rather than getting involved in the schools that parents/businessmen/community members think are sub par they choose to just keep perpetuating the reality or myth (who knows since perception is many people's reality). I'm with you in the sentiment that the school facilities can be better and that the culture of the schools can be better and that the academic bar can be raised. Metro is far from perfect and no one disputes that but sitting around and spending time and energy on finding ways to eliminate certain groups of students from the equation to achieve a better school is not the path we need to be on in my opinion.

By: Specter47 on 9/25/12 at 9:01 are right on target. @ChelleBaldwin is clearly an MNPS insider who is using the data they created against Great Hearts. One data point they did not use was the success of the schools GH operate in Arizona. We keep hearing about how Great Hearts didn't meet the "diversity plan" that MNPS expected, and when MNPS is challenged about keeping white kids out, they simply have no comeback. Silence.

And Chelle...I am very aware of the FARLs in the district. They are well above 70%...more like 78%. And I submit to you that it will continue to climb, because people like you do nothing to really make a difference in MNPS. It's the same old same old story..."we need more money" thrown at the problem, when what we really need is to get rid of the problem. Great Hearts would have helped MNPS take a step towards improvement.

The reason Great Hearts haters will not let it go is because they know Great Hearts will be back. And they know Great Hearts will win next time. I hope it's soon.

By: chelle baldwin on 9/25/12 at 10:57

To Mr/Mrs/Ms/Miss random string of anonymous letters and numbers "Specter47" you have me in stitches. I honestly laughed out loud at your assertion that I am an "MNPS insider". But maybe your conspiracy theory is right and I AM an insider by virtue of having two children that attend a Metro Public school. Guilty as charged by the anonymous person.

Could you please tell me what why everyone including yourself keeps turning this into a race issue? Could you also please tell me what "white kids" you are referring to and WHERE are they being kept out of? Are white families being told they can not apply to the charter schools that are operating in Nashville because if they are then that needs to be brought to light. Please enlighten us to the details of the problem you are referring to. I honestly want to know.

I'm not sure what you are talking about when you say "get rid of the problem" . Do you mean the FRL, disabled and ELL kids? Interesting that you choose to pull money out of my statement "If all the energy, money and support that was behind GH was directed at the schools that are supposedly "not meeting the expectations" of the parents of future students there is no telling what positive changes could happen to the culture of those schools." to address in your slam on me. And then take your personal slam to the next level with your claim
(" people like you do nothing to really make a difference in MNPS" ) about what I apparently don't do to make a difference in our schools. I can only conclude from your statements that you are a comedian. Thanks for the laugh! And on the off chance that you are not trying to be funny you might want to keep your comments directed to what you actually know and can back up. Just sayin'.

By: RebeccaDS on 9/25/12 at 7:00

Why were the GH advocates so determined that the first school be in "Area 2?" If they were coveting spots at MLK and Hume Fogg, why wouldn't they be willing to drive to Bordeaux or Antioch or Madison for this fabulous free education? Forgive me if I am asking a question that has already been discussed, but It is late, I am tired and I'd love a succinct answer.

By: RebeccaDS on 9/25/12 at 8:50

In this day and age I wouldn't want my children at a school without a policeman. MLK, Hume-Fogg and Meigs all have police officers. I know a security guard who works at Ensworth.

By: mm80 on 9/26/12 at 10:13

@chelle baldwin

Just because Davidson County has 9% ELL does not mean that is represented at every school. Nor is every school staffed with educators who are specifically hired for ELL in expectation of 9%. A plan like that happens AFTER enrollment. If there were, for example, 9% ELL at GH first school, they would have to staff for that. Otherwise, they would be a massive failure. But who hires ELL teachers if they don't know if they will need them? THE SCHOOL ISN'T OPEN YET. There aren't ELL students who are being discriminated against. You have created this in your mind. All of this stuff is a figment of everyone's imagination.
And to answer your question, considering that GH has been so widely covered in the media, even in AZ I feel CERTAIN that if a family was experiencing the type of discrimination you are referring to, why would they not come forward?
And I am a tax-paying citizen of Davidson County with my kids in public school just like you.

By: FAMUAce on 9/26/12 at 8:18

I HEART you! That is all. Data plus context shuts all mouths.

By: chelle baldwin on 9/28/12 at 10:17

Isn't it interesting that no one who is pro GH coming to town will ever answer the question that RebeccaDS posed. "Why were the GH advocates so determined that the first school be in "Area 2?" If they were coveting spots at MLK and Hume Fogg, why wouldn't they be willing to drive to Bordeaux or Antioch or Madison for this fabulous free education?"
I have asked the same thing in other places and have received the same response that Rebecca did. Crickets.

To Mr/Mrs/Ms/Miss anonymous mm80
You are correct. There are some schools in Metro that have an ELL population higher than Metro's average of 9% and some that have lower. But many of the schools that have lower numbers are either an academic performance based magnet, a special needs school and or a different kind of specialty school. And yes, as student populations change so does staffing within Metro schools. But that does not negate what GH brought to the table. They had a 5 year plan that included 5 schools with a total population of 3,082. For those 5 schools they had 1 Special Education Coordinator. The Special Education Coordinator oversees IEP compliance and all other issues with special needs students and the special education teacher AND they were also in charge of ELL. That one person was the only one allocated to ELL. Which wouldn't be a big deal if you go by their average of 0.3% ELL at their 12 AZ schools. One person accommodating 14 ELL kids out of over 5,000 students probably isn't a problem in AZ. The problem lies in the fact that GH was told their diversity plan was not adequate and they did nothing to change it to reflect Nashville's student population. These figures are not made up or "created in my mind" as you assert. I actually used what I learned in public school and I researched it. As for people who are discriminated against, I think you will find that history shows that people in the minority tend to not have much of a voice. I'm going to guess that Hispanic's who are not fluent in English or other non English speaking families that live in the Phoenix area are very aware of what the score is and where they are not welcomed. Even if they had the means or ability to "come forward" who would they speak to and what good would it do exactly? You won't even put a comment in a paper about something that you believe in and put your name to it. Why would they be compelled to fight an entrenched hierarchy within their city and how would they do it?
And to get back to RebeccaDS's question. Did anyone that wanted GH petition the company to put their first school in an area of town that would be readily accessible to the low income students? If everyone wanted that school so badly why didn't anyone put pressure on them to open their first school in an area that would promote socioeconomic diversity and then they could just drive their kids over to that school like they would drive them to MLK or Hume Fogg? If GH had done that I bet they would have been approved without a single problem.