Online petitions compete on Great Hearts' charter proposal

Monday, April 30, 2012 at 7:30pm

Competing online petitions have formed for and against Arizona-based Great Hearts Academies’ Nashville charter school proposal, offering a glimpse at the looming debate as the school board prepares to consider a record number of charter applications in May.

On one side are parents who argue Great Hearts — seeking to open as many as five privately led, publicly funded charters across Davidson County — offers rigorous academics, a “world-class education” that nurtures the “moral, social and philosophical growth” of all students.

But then there’s the dueling argument, spelled out in a separate petition created over the weekend, which hits on the crux of the controversy: the state’s new open enrollment charter law, which Great Hearts plans to utilize as indicated in its application.

The organization operates 12 charter schools in the Phoenix area. Its Nashville school would be its first outside that region, and it’s already generated plenty of chatter.

“By holding students to the highest standards and instilling them with a love for learning, Great Hearts graduates students with the ability to excel in some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the nation,” states the petition in favor of Great Hearts, concluding with a plea to the nine-member board for final approval.

Organized in late March, that petition boasts 478 signatures.

Historically, charter schools in Nashville have served the economically disadvantaged. Great Hearts, which arrived in Nashville following a push from West Nashville parents, would have a “mixed-income” focus, presumably appealing to parents of students who struck out in the magnet school lottery and are weighing private school enrollment.

“We believe that [Great Hearts] will easily exceed their test score targets by drawing from the high-scoring private and public school student populations in West Nashville,” the counter petition reads.

It continues, “We are concerned, in principle, that public funds will be added to private funds and will create an economically exclusive enclave for a few lottery-selected students.”

This group, led by Metro school parent Chris Moth, calls itself “Nashvillians Concerned about Great Hearts.” The petition urges the school board to either ensure Great Hearts maintain a student body that is at least 40 percent free and reduced lunch qualifiers, or to vote against Great Hearts’ proposal.

With 37 signatures, the anti-Great Hearts coalition has some catch-up to reach their counterparts.

In all, 11 organizations have applied to open new charter schools in Nashville for the 2013-14 school year.

Great Hearts officials, declining to say where they would open their first Nashville school, have seen large turnouts at community meetings held in all parts of the city. Meetings began over the winter with two gatherings in West Nashville. The organization is also considering an expansion to San Antonio.

Under Metro’s charter review process, a charter review committee is to decide by this Friday which applicants to invite for interviews. Recommended charters would then go before the school board, with final votes likely taking place during the final week of May.

5 Comments on this post:

By: NashvilleParent2 on 5/1/12 at 7:12

This petition would have validity if the creators and signors, like Chris Moth, and his fellow Percy Priest Elementary parents, and friends at Glendale Spanish Immersion added another addendum that asks MNPS to hold their schools to the same FRL standards they ask for Great Hearts or any other charter seeking to open in Nashville. With only 10% FRL at these two schools in affluent sections of Nashville, their own "economically exclusives enclaves" are already operating with their kids as students. Mr. Garrison, how about a story on that?

By: MNPSParent on 5/1/12 at 8:46

40% is not a magic number, although it might roughly approximate enrollment at the Hillsboro cluster middle schools and high school. The bigger point is that, while the enrollment of all district schools is under the continual review and jurisdiction of MNPS student assignment services, and thus the public can weigh in and impact enrollment at publicly funded schools, this is not the case for charter schools. Once a charter is authorized, the board and the taxpayers can no longer help shape enrollment. That is why a plan for enrollment and diversity is essential BEFORE a charter is authorized. The public should have a voice in enrollment for all publicly funded schools. This is increasingly important if Nashville is going to continue to open more and more charter schools each year, and it's something our school board should address.

By: Parent-Taxpayer... on 5/1/12 at 9:50

MNPSParent - You make some good points. Enrollment at charter schools is, in fact, determined only by the demand of families who want their children to attend the charter school. But I'm not sure why this worries you. This is exactly the situation at Nashville's successful public magnet schools, which don't provide transportation, yet are highly diverse, attract students from all over Nashville, and have tragically long waiting lists.

You say "The public should have a voice in enrollment for all publicly funded schools". Do you realize that charter schools must by law have open enrollment to all students from all parts of Davidson Co.? What more natural public voice could there be? You either believe that certain families aren't smart enough to try to enroll their kids in charter schools -- which is paternalistic and condescending -- or you think that certain families won't be able to show up at these schools despite their desire to attend -- which completely flies in the face of the thousands of highly diverse (and devastated) families who lose the lottery at Metro's magnet schools.

Great Hearts is applying to open five charter schools across all parts of Davidson Co., and they are committed to providing a rigorous, college prep education to anyone who shows up (no academic admission standards, like Mertro's Magnets). Great Hearts has a track record of operating highly successful and competitive public schools for all families in its communities. Why would you oppose this resource for the thousands of families who want more and better schools for their kids??

Unlike the lucky few in Nashville who currently are zoned for the few "desirable" public schools (enclaves of quality) in Nashville, thousands of us want more and better options in our public school system. We need it and we demand it -- the current system is not such a model of success that it can't be improved. I encourage the MNPS school board to approve the Great Hearts charter application. Thanks.

By: ohplease on 5/2/12 at 12:01

If charter schools are so wonderful and solve all problems, shouldn't we just turn the public school system over to Great Hearts? Is Great Hearts prepared to deal with children with all kinds of disabilities, children with low IQs who are unable to learn what is demanded by No Child Left Behind, children with serious behavior problems? Aren't parents who want these charter schools wanting to escape those groups by siphoning off money from schools that do serve them? Of course we all want the best for our own children. But when I look at the people who have advocated for Great Hearts to come to Nashville, I see people who have never sent a child to a public school. What is their interest? Is there a "Christian" component to Great Hearts charter schools? In researching their schools in Arizona, it appears that one or two of the academies has been outstanding but others aren't mentioned. And are those successful ones in affluent areas? Maybe someone knows the answers.

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