Parents argue over Great Hearts charter proposal before school board

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 11:29pm

Though scores of parents are celebrating a proposed Metro charter operator as much-needed option for a school system that historically loses students to private schools, a competing faction argues that it would threaten racial diversity within the system.

Great Hearts Academies, an Arizona-based charter organization that has proposed a network of five publicly financed, privately led schools in Nashville, took center stage at Tuesday’s school board meeting, with more than 60 parents having a say in the debate before the board casts a final vote on 11 charter applicants by May 29.

Martha Galyon, a parent of a rising kindergartener in the Hillsboro cluster, told the board she was “quickly overwhelmed by the rising cost of private education in Nashville” during a recent school hunt for her child. Her zoned public school has a great reputation, but the building is overcrowded.

Her story is like so many others, Galyon said, adding that Great Hearts “would have been a great option for us to have this year.”

Wearing stickers revealing their support for Great Hearts, a decidedly young crowd of parents Tuesday plead for approval of a charter that would represent new terrain for Nashville. In the past, charters in Nashville were restricted to serving only economically disadvantaged students. Today, however, a new state law has opened charters to everyone, and Great Hearts plans to do just that.

Parents, who came Tuesday from neighborhoods across Davidson County, but especially parts of West Nashville and Green Hills, pointed to Great Hearts’ liberal arts approach that apparently yields great results. With schools like Julia Green Elementary School in Green Hills currently overcrowded, and waiting listing at academic magnets schools stretching long, many said finding high-performing schools is a challenge — if not impossible.

Holly Coltea said she has a “wish list” for a preferred school: a liberal arts education, small class sizes, and a focus on critical thinking skills. “So many families are forced to pay $22,000 in order to get this wish-list.”

Following a parental-push for a new charter school to serve students in West Nashville, Great Hearts officials hosted a series of community meetings across the city this past winter to discuss their model. The organization operates 12 charter schools in the Phoenix area, and is exploring both Nashville and San Antonio for expansion.

Though Great Hearts officials insist they don’t where they would locate its initial school — their long-term hopes is for five across the county — many assume the first would cater to the affluent parts of West Nashville.

Skeptics fear the implications.

“I was hoping there would be a little more diversity tonight,” said Maura-Lee Albert, a jab at the majority white crowd speaking on Great Hearts’ behalf.

Albert said she appreciates “school choice” offered by charters but questioned Great Hearts’ plan to ensure racial diversity among its student population. Skeptics have pointed to Great Hearts’ policy of not offering transportation for students, and hypothesized that students in low-income neighborhoods could be left out.

“It’s time to ask hard questions about this proposal,” Albert said “Does it truly meet the needs of all children at MNPS? Do we really need to re-segregate our schools?”

Other Great Hearts opponents suggested opening the doors of charters to middle-to-upper class students could trigger a mass exodus from traditional schools.

“How do you expect the zoned schools to ever succeed when you keep creating reasons for families like mine to leave?” said Carol Ballenger, a parent in the Hillsboro cluster.

Anne-Marie Farmer, a Metro school parent helping lead the criticism against Great Hearts, has asked that the board approve Great Hearts’ charter application only if three criteria are met: school diversity is ensured; transportation and busing is offered; and officials reveal its location.

“If any applicant is not willing to do so, we should all ask why,” Farmer said.

Great Hearts leaders, who were not in attendance Tuesday, have maintained they plan to admit students from all socio-economic backgrounds. A section in its application says the school is “committed” to diversity as well as eventually opening a school in North Nashville.

In the coming weeks, Metro’s charter review committee is set to interview selected charter applicants before recommending approval or disapproval to the school board.

14 Comments on this post:

By: Lab on 5/9/12 at 7:28

I thought Charter schools were originally conceived to work in disadvantaged areas, we already have college prep Magnet Schools and plenty of college prep private schools in Metro.

By: tbulgarino on 5/9/12 at 8:03


@Carol Ballenger -
The list of reasons to leave Metro are long and growing. They include failing schools, gang activity, bloated administration, apathetic parents, unions and sparse academic magnet opportunities.

All the best if you desire to have your children participate in the failed social experiment we call Metro schools. But, why are you working so hard to prohibit other families from have choices for their children?

From the article -
"Other Great Hearts opponents suggested opening the doors of charters to middle-to-upper class students could trigger a mass exodus from traditional schools.

“How do you expect the zoned schools to ever succeed when you keep creating reasons for families like mine to leave?” said Carol Ballenger, a parent in the Hillsboro cluster."

An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.
- Winston Churchill

By: pswindle on 5/9/12 at 8:12

We need to keep public money in public schools. How many Charter Schools has taken money away from Metro/Nashville and failed to produce? Public schools can offer so much more to students than they could ever get from Charter Schools. When you are Cherry picking students, you can get good results. Metro/Nashville offers art, music, AP Classes, Honor Classes, sports of all kinds and most of all the best teachers in the world. The problem is getting parents and students on the same page and work together with the schools for good discipline. That is the success of a great schools. This is the area that needs work, with good discipline everything else will fall in place.

By: JeffF on 5/9/12 at 8:17

No one should be allowed to open public schools which can draw talented, economically advantaged students from neighborhood schools. Unless of course for Metro with its two glorious magnet schools hidden among its generally failing system.

Actually I am a big fan of anything that will create schools in Metro that will keep all kids and families in the city. Right now the strategic plan is to apparently suck, then suck some more, then show disdain for the parents who would choose private schools or move to another county.

We must do something as a community to make Nashville worth living in for families. This may or may not include allowing charter schools for kids not living in the various projects. But right now we are on the same old path that Detroit, New Orleans, and Memphis have been on for years. Look out for the poor, use tax money to employ as many people as possible, and burn tax money from fertile neighborhoods to do it all. Eventually, the people in the sustainable neighborhoods all leave or die leaving the city to the people who have gotten used to the status quo.

By: BigPapa on 5/9/12 at 8:43

I like how we have schools, but then we set apart the Magnet schools for people that ya know REALLY want an education. It's a nod and a wink, an acknowledgment if you will, that even Central Office knows that the other schools only exist to warehouse kids for 7.5 hrs a day.

By: NashvilleParent2 on 5/9/12 at 10:23

Please, Please do your homework on the parents you quote.

Both Ms. Farmer and Ms. Albert have children at Glendale Spanish Immersion which has the lowest FRL % (10%) in the district, but both women speaking last night simply described themselves as "MNPS Parents." Glendale only has 8.8% African American students and almost 45% of the students are in Encore--the program for Gifted and Academically Talented Children. What's more is the school's address--affluent Oak Hill. Yes, MNPS provides transportation to a geographic priority zone which extends to the Edgehill Community, but obviously Glendale's marketing efforts have fallen short in this community.

If diversity is what these women seek, why waste an opportunity before the MNPS School Board to protest Great Hearts when they could've been asking MNPS to require diversity at their own school?

Even more of a double standard was Vivian Wilhoite speaking against GHA because of diversity while her son attends Brentwood Academy.

By: JeffF on 5/9/12 at 10:46

You would think that board members who actively avoid the school system for their own kids would butt out of debates with parents trying to find ways to keep their children in the schools

By: whitetrash on 5/9/12 at 11:04

Will the real Darden Copeland on this message board please stand up?

By: BigPapa on 5/9/12 at 11:46

Ive found that the people that cry the most for "diversity" usually live their private lives in some of the least diverse neighborhoods.

By: playthegame on 5/9/12 at 3:13

Oh, Metro, you've done it again!

By: Balo on 5/9/12 at 3:57

Charter schools are the greatest mulligan to a business person. No investment and you reap all the financial rewards from the federal government while promising fool's gold to the eager parents. Tell the lie long enough and over time it seems like the truth.

Parents be careful.

By: Parent-Taxpayer... on 5/9/12 at 5:40

Take out the magnet schools and there are no examples of first rate, high quality middle schools or high schools in MNPS -- none. If you don't understand this, your expectations have been mangled, defanged and dumbed down by the system. This is not an opinion -- any honest assessment of objective measures will support the conclusion that MNPS is a bad excuse for an education system relative to global benchmarks.

We're not going to make any progress in reforming our schools if we can't get some basic cause-and-effect logic straight. MNPS schools are not weak because so many families are leaving for private schools or moving to Williamson County. Rather, families send their kids to private schools or move to Williamson County because MNPS schools are weak.

We must stop blocking the introduction of new and better models into the system for fear that they will attract "the best" teachers and students (i.e. the "cherry picking" argument). Don't we want our schools to be attractive to our most motivated teachers and families?

If you complain about people leaving the school sytem, you should support reform that will bring them back. Unless you just want to complain.

I want reform. I want a chance for kids to have better educational opportunities. I want to see MNPS scramble to get all schools up to the level of our best examples. I'm ready to go down the bumby road of improvement rather than sit comfy and idle on the sofa of mediocrity. I want Great Hearts.

By: BigPapa on 5/10/12 at 6:23

The real answer is to have a much more Darwinian system the rewards achievers and lets the underachievers and unable fall by the way side-for both students and teachers. Due to the courts and the teachers unions these reform will never be take place, so what you end up with is lowest common denominator "education" and a lot of stuff that makes people feel good but actually accomplishes nothing.

By: Westworld1 on 5/22/12 at 12:27

This charter is fantastic. AZ is overloaded with non-performing teachers and ESL classes. If you can't afford private school, this is an awesome alternative. I'm tired of public employees complaining about stealing "the cream of the crop" and segregation. We hear the same crap here. BS...any kid can go here.....parents need choices!