The Metro school board spent Tuesday night trying to alter the narrative that the district is hostile to charter schools while easily approving four of six charter applications for the 2014-15 school year.
Among the charter hopefuls were three schools linked to established charter operators and another school whose founder was recruited to Nashville by Mayor Karl Dean.
“Anybody who claims we don't support choice either hasn't been paying attention or is intellectually dishonest," said Will Pinkston, one of nine members of the board which voted unanimously for the four district-recommended new schools at Tuesday’s board meeting.
The Metro Nashville Public Schools board is still recovering politically after having spent the last year reeling from a controversial decision to repeatedly reject a specific charter application. The results included a $3.4 million fine from the state for refusing the Tennessee State Board of Education’s orders to approve the charter and MNPS narrowly dodging the Tennessee legislature’s effort to create an outside panel power to OK rejected charter schools.
While most school board members and district officials voiced the need to dispel the past year’s charter school fallout, board member Amy Frogge made the case that the district needs to ease up on its embrace of charters and think more about the student population attending traditional schools.
“We have spent a lot of time talking about charter related issues,” she told the board after the body approved the new schools. “While I believe that good charter schools can certainly complement our district’s efforts, we need to be able to focus on broader needs of all the 81,000 students in our district.”
She added the district also needs to consider the financial cost of adding more charter schools — a price tag that made up about $15 million in new district spending this year.
“I almost feel like it’s a new day,” said Randy Dowell, executive director of KIPP Academy which won approval to open KIPP Nashville College Prep Elementary in East Nashville for students in grades K-4. “Maybe there will be tough conversations, that’s what happens. But ultimately I think the spirit of what I heard today is we’ll all be pushing in the same direction which is really refreshing.”
California native Todd Dickson, founder and CEO of newly approved Valor Collegiate of a 5-12 school in Southeast Nashville, said he’s so far had a positive relationship with the district.
“There’s going to be bumps in the road when you’re trying to figure out 81,000 kids and how you do the financials for that many kids,” said Dickson, who was recruited to open a charter school here by Dean. “They are looking to bring in high quality charter schools and trying to allow them to replicate, so I think it’s a very good relationship with the very normal stresses of how do you balance budgets.”
MNPS board also approved the Nashville Academy of Computer Science — previously Nashville Prep II — in North and West Nashville for grades 5-8 and Rocketship Education Tennessee, a K-5 school in North or South Nashville.
Per the recommendation of school district’s Office of Innovation Director Alan Coverstone, the board unanimously denied the application two applications. The first was to Thurgood Marshall School of Career Development, a high school that would have focused on students who have had contact with the juvenile justice system.
The board also denied Explore! Community Schools, a proposed K-8 in the Maplewood and Stratford clusters supported by the Martha O’Bryan Center. Coverstone suggested the charter operator revise its application and resubmit it within 30 days — an offer the center’s director plans to take up.
“It’s pretty much already done,” said Marsha Edwards, Martha O’Bryan Center CEO. “We may not agree on everything, but we respect the process so we’re going to attend to the things that they’ve noted.”