LEAD Academy looking at Cohn school building

Tuesday, January 5, 2010 at 10:45pm

An agreement for LEAD Academy’s new high school to lease space inside the Cohn school building in Sylvan Park appears to be gaining traction, but a deal still needs the OK of Metro Nashville Public Schools and subsequent school board approval.

After receiving a $320,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, LEAD Academy –– a 3-year-old north Nashville charter school that serves low-income middle school students –– announced plans over the summer to open a new high school next school year.

Securing a facility for the high school, which begins its admissions process next week, has been the subject of recent conversations between LEAD Academy founder Jeremy Kane and Alan Coverstone, director of charter and private schools at MNPS. The two parties have discussed a handful of building possibilities, with the Cohn school building, situated at Park Avenue across the street from Richland Park, emerging as the clear preference for LEAD.

“If we could wave a magic wand, I think Cohn meets a majority of our needs as well as our desires for location and size,” Kane said.

“We serve a lot of kids from west and north Nashville,” he said. “So, obviously for us it would be a great boon to be so close by. Bringing back a high school to that neighborhood would be a huge thing for the community as well as the city.”

The Cohn building currently houses a number of education programs, including the Cohn Adult Learning Center, the Adult Literacy Council, Homework Hotline, English as a Second Language and General Education Development courses, among other resources.

Though nothing is finalized, a deal between MNPS And LEAD could call for the Cohn ALC program to move elsewhere, perhaps to the Brookmeade Elementary School building in Bellevue. Other resources would likely remain at Cohn.

LEAD’s board of directors would potentially lease the space from MNPS under the condition they renovate the structure. Any arrangement would come at the recommendation of the school district and need approval from the school board.

“We don’t want to be a disruption to the district and we don’t want to be a disruption to the programs that are already in place there,” Kane said. “As far as where the ALC goes, it’s not up to us. If they’re there, we’ll work with them. If not, obviously we’ll find a way to use the entire space.”

District 24 Metro Councilman Jason Holleman, who represents Cohn’s district and has met with Kane, sees benefits of moving LEAD’s high school into the facility, as he believes its arrival could encourage partnerships between LEAD and Cohn’s academic programs and with the neighborhood itself.

“You would have a whole army of senior adults that are Cohn alumni, that are dedicated to that facility, that you could tap into to help Jeremy with LEAD Academy,” Holleman said.

“And it’s an iconic building in the middle of neighborhood that really interacts with the facility,” Holleman said. “So, I think you could have a lot of community-building potential right there.”

Coverstone, who declined to speak directly on the Cohn proposal with negotiations ongoing, said he’s always thought it makes sense to use buildings more strategically to produce income for the district and to form effective charter school operators.