School board rejects Great Hearts, approves KIPP and Purpose Prep

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 8:41pm

A heated Metro school board discussion on diversity — with one member citing a fear of resegregation — ended with a 7-2 vote Tuesday to deny an amended, but still controversial, charter for Great Hearts Academies, halting the Phoenix-based group’s plan for five schools in Nashville.

“In final analysis, if we open this floodgate, in five or 10 years we’re going to have schools with blacks, schools with Hispanics, schools for the poor, schools for whites,” veteran board member Ed Kindall said of Great Hearts’ plan. “That’s what’s going to happen.”

The school board, considering appeals from five charter groups it denied a month before, gave approval Tuesday to the second attempts of KIPP Nashville and Purpose Prep Academy. KIPP plans to open a new Whites Creek-area middle school, while the Tennessee Charter Incubator-backed Purpose Prep has planned a K-fourth grade charter.

“It’s a victory for the kids of east and north Nashville,” KIPP Nashville Executive Director Randy Dowell said of the 8-1 vote to approve his school’s expansion. Board members Tuesday cited KIPP’s positive newly released state test scores after questioning its track record in May.

But the board denied the appeals of Genesis Academy, Excel Academy and, most notably, Great Hearts, which arrived to Nashville this past winter following a push from a group of parents in affluent West Nashville looking for greater school choice.

Seeking to address questions about its transportation and location plans raised during its initial denial in May, Great Hearts came back Tuesday with an amended proposal: The school revealed it is “actively searching” for a school location within a 2.9-mile area near West End Avenue and would offer one bus to each of the two “largest clusters” that are home to students who live 15 minutes or more from its first school.

But Director of Schools Jesse Register’s administration nonetheless recommended the board reject Great Hearts, arguing the “grounds for the initial denial recommendation have not been overcome, despite cosmetic adjustments and significant political pressure.”

Kindall, an African-American raised in Nashville’s 1950s-era segregated school system, said he was “appalled” by Great Hearts’ transportation plan, arguing it wouldn’t offer busing to all low-income students. He said its proposal would, in fact, “destroy some of the diversity we already have.”

In the end, only board members Kay Simmons and Michael Hayes voted for Great Hearts. The two represent the board’s two most affluent districts.

Peter Bezanson, chief academic officer of Great Hearts, said in a statement the school is “disappointed” by the outcome but added the vote does not change its hopes to serve students in Nashville one day. He said Great Hearts officials would “step back and explore” its options.

“Obviously, the board’s decision to reject our application takes a school opening in fall 2013 off the table, but we plan to pursue the chance to secure the approvals for five schools, including a 2014 opening,” Bezanson said.

Before Tuesday’s meeting commenced, Mayor Karl Dean, a charter advocate, entered the debate by sending a last-minute letter to the school board that endorsed Great Hearts, as well as KIPP and Purpose Prep.

“Each of these organizations have put together a quality application that meets or exceeds the expectations outlined in the initial review process, and each would add another high quality public school choice for Nashville families,” Dean wrote.

He cautioned the board from letting “bureaucracy or the fear of change occurring too quickly slow the progress we’re making on education reform.”

But the push for Great Hearts couldn’t overcome resistance from Register’s administration. Alan Coverstone, who leads the district’s Office of Innovation, delivered a scathing critique of Great Hearts to the board that set the tone for its final rejection.

“Careful analysis of the application and the experience, including the perspective of visitors to the Phoenix-area schools, leave many nagging concerns,” Coverstone said. “Opportunities to overcome these concerns have been met with partial efforts, defensive statements and deferred decisions.”

He called the Great Hearts model for five schools in different parts of Davidson County an attempt at “locational diversity,” quoting a Great Hearts supporter. He pointed to Great Hearts’ 14 schools in Arizona.

“Even a cursory glance at the Phoenix portfolio shows what locational diversity looks like: mostly white schools, and a mostly African-American school, with only one exception,” Coverstone said.

Simmons, who represents parts of West Nashville and isn’t seeking a second board term in August, began Tuesday’s meeting with a 10-minute pro-charter speech. She was absent when her colleagues originally voted against Great Hearts.

“Charter schools do not have to stop with better outcomes for low-income or minority communities,” Simmons said. “All children deserve a quality education.”

Simmons said she was “shocked” to learn Metro’s zoned schools didn’t produce any students with National Merit distinctions last year. “What happened to the hundreds of students who are on Hume-Fogg and MLK’s wait-list?” she said. “Did they suddenly become disengaged?

“I conclude that either we are not educating and inspiring students to perform at the highest level or we’re losing those who can achieve,” Simmons said. She later added that there’s been a “dramatic decline in the trust people have in our schools.”

When discussion turned to diversity, Simmons defended Great Hearts, pointing out its “expressed desire” to reach out to the entire county. “I just believe that this is not a racial issue. It should not be a racial issue. I don’t think we should vote it as a racial issue. This is an educational issue.”

Hayes, who represents parts of Green Hills, spoke up to allow Great Hearts administrators the chance to defend their proposal. But board chair Gracie Porter said it would be “unjust” to afford them that opportunity after it didn’t do the same for other charter groups.

16 Comments on this post:

By: conservarage on 6/27/12 at 5:54

reverse racism at work.

By: Specter47 on 6/27/12 at 6:03

I really hope Great Hearts appeals this to the State, which is more likely to consider the needs of ALL children, regardless of their financial status and where they live. Kids in East and North Nashville are not the only student citizens of the city. Kindall says that approving Great Hearts would "destroy some of the diversity we already have", meaning that there would be more white kids. Not fewer black kids, just more white. Terrible.

By: govskeptic on 6/27/12 at 6:52

Great Hearts will never win the vote of Mr. Kindall, as he has always been
the voice of the most skeptical of the NAACP. Many others will withhold
their votes until Great Hearts pretends to be serving the poorest of the
poor with lots of free extras! Their core proposals are very sound for
acceptance.

By: jsabrown on 6/27/12 at 8:09

Hey, Conservagarbage! Denying your racist impulses is not in itself a racist action. You do not have the right to privilege.

By: 2teachornot2teach on 6/27/12 at 8:52

Why isn't Kay Simmons seeking a second term? She sounds like a lone voice of reason in this mess of a debate. MNPS- OUR SCHOOLS ARE FAILING, no matter how your talking heads (including the notorious Alan Coverstone) try to spin it. The obvious solution should not be to force equality in education by ensuring it is sub-par for all.

By: BASPUD on 6/27/12 at 9:47

if the teachers in metro schools would do there job there would be no need for charter schools i

By: firstworldproblems on 6/27/12 at 11:01

Thanks for the scathing commentary, BASPUD. Are you a product of Nashville schools? If not, please enlighten us as to which "superior" school system produced you, so we can be sure to thank your English teachers.

Plenty of teachers in Metro do "there" [sic] job[s]. The blame does not lie just with the teachers, so please let us look at the whole picture. There are lots of absent parents, helicopter parents who refuse to let us do our jobs, clueless administrators, and many, many higher-ups who have no business making decisions about what goes on in public schools. Politicians love to think that school systems should be run like a business, but in the end, they do not seem to understand that children are not widgets, and you will never be able to produce two that are exactly alike.

Charter schools are a great idea; don't get me wrong. But they are a "Great New Educational Trend," just like every other "Great New Educational Trend." Dismantling MNPS in favor of a bunch of charter schools will end up in exactly what the board members are saying - segregated schools. And if you think that charter schools won't eventually get worse, you're wrong, because children will all end up going to school somewhere, and charter schools employ the same teachers that Metro employs. Great Hearts had to know that not providing transportation was going to be a problem - it was literally the ONLY charter school in metro not to have a transportation plan - and with the population of students that we serve in our city, that's not acceptable. It would easily set the district up for lawsuits, which I doubt they're in the mood to fight right now.

Bottom line, if you want your kid to have a private school education, send your kid to a private school. But when you look at the demographics of our county's children, though, trying to justify a taxpayer-funded school that would basically be earmarked for affluent white kids is going to be a tough sell. Your kid's upper-middle-class strife in the halls of Hillsboro HS holds no water against the uphill climb of a homeless black kid at Whites Creek or a former Kurdish Pride gang member trying to turn his life around at Glencliff. Those are the students who need charter schools.

By: BellevueBill on 6/28/12 at 6:01

Why any middle class family makes a decision to live in Nashville is still a mystery to me. This decision should have surprised no one.

By: Specter47 on 6/28/12 at 6:01

OK, @firstworld... very nice and thoughtful words, but you still won't admit that the kids from wealthy families deserve the same free education that a kid from an economically disadvantaged family does. It's more likely that the wealthy family is funding public schools through their taxes. The poor family is benefiting by sending their kids to public schools without contributing through taxes. They even have fee waivers and free lunches (and breakfast) to keep from paying anything at all.

By the way, your second paragraph is spot on...

By: conservarage on 6/28/12 at 8:39

i wonder if Coverstone has kids in MNPS schools....or private schools.

By: 2teachornot2teach on 6/28/12 at 9:55

@Conservarage- I believe that Coverstone's kids go to USN. Most MNPS administrators that I have worked with have their children enrolled in Williamson County schools. In fact, I can only think of two principals in my tenure (albeit a limited scope) who have enrolled their children in MNPS. Telling, no?

By: Balo on 6/28/12 at 12:57

From the forum last Thursday at Hillwood High School, it was revealed that Eric Crafton's child attends CPA and that Margaret Dolan moved from the county a few years ago for her children to attend Williamson County Schools.

If that had not been ask from the audience, this bit of information would have remained silent.

By: conservarage on 6/29/12 at 7:01

@2teachornot2teach - indeed, very telling - thanks for the info.

By: knilob on 6/29/12 at 9:56

By: 2teachornot2teach on 6/28/12 at 10:55 -> "Most MNPS administrators that I have worked with have their children enrolled in Williamson County schools."

I think it should be a requirement for school board members and all MNPS administration to live in Davidson County and send their kids to Metro schools. By not "eating their own dogfood", they are demonstrating how out of touch they really are with the problems facing our schools.

Additionally, I don't really know why Kay Simmons was questioning why zero of the zoned schools produced no NMSQTs. The majority of the kids who were wait listed by the Hume-Fogg and MLK more than likely ended up in private schools.

I don't remember it being this way when I was coming up through the MNPS system (Eakin to Bellevue/Moore to Hillsboro). It makes me wonder what the schools are going to be like when my daughter is ready to start. Will this out of touch school board force my hand as well?

By: Ask01 on 7/1/12 at 6:17

The education process is, in my experience, best described as a two way street.

If learning were, as some seem to believe, a one way street, our school system would would be turning out a crop of brilliant citizens each year. (Honestly, some of the subjects students receive in middle school today, my generation didn't even consider until at least high school.)

If all that was required was showing up, the instructor pouring in instant knowledge, mixing well, and producing a Rhodes Scholar, such would be wonderful.

However, having spent a few trying years as an aircrew instructor, I can attest, based on my experience, the process works very differently. Students must take an active part in their own education. If the mind is not open to receiving instruction, actively engaging and challanging the teacher, the end result will be half baked.

I will confess here to having a definite advantage over MNPS teachers as most of my students wanted, actually needed the instruction. To keep their "job" and maintain their income, students needed to sucessfuly complete the ground and aerial training, be recommended for, and pass a check ride administered by a senior Flight Examiner. Occuaptional and monetary inventives do wonders for most attitudes.

There should be no reason for any student failing to receive an adequate, if not outstanding education, if they would only put forth effort to explore subjects on their own time. Self motivation is the key.

While I had the carrot and stick incentives of money and job security to motivate my students, (who were, I admit, nominally adults,) MNPS teachers have, or should have, an advantage I lacked in the form of parents and family to instill a culture of learning and acheivement, and ecourage, by whatever means necessary, academic success. A third lane, a passing lane if you will, on the education highway.

Money can only address the quality and quantity of facilities, supplies, and educational aids, not the actual learning process. Money can also hire more teachers, perhaps better qualified teachers.

What money cannot do is instill a desire to learn, and a self motivating spirit in students. Nor can money create and support a culture of, and respect for, education in the home and community.

We really should have no need for charter schools in Nashville, or any community for that matter, if all three points of the educational triad are aligned. Teachers presenting material in an understandable manner; students receiving instruction, putting forth effort to understand and apply the information; and parents creating a home culture emphasising the importance of a basic education.

Magnet schools, which identify and attract students based on recognized talents for the purpose of enhancing those natural abilities are a different matter altogether which I won't discuss here.

Perhaps a better plan would be to establish a more comprehensive system of alternative schools, where students unwilling to contribute to their own education and confom to accepted social behavioral norms can receive a minmally adequate education administered by much stricter authority, imparting by whatever menas necessary the basic educational and societal knowledge required to be a productive member of the community.

I believe charter schools could be an important tool in Metro's educational toolbox, however, I also perceive, wrongly I hope, attempts to utilize charters for other purposes.

To that end, I believe we need to build up the student, teacher, parent, and even community partnership to improve our educational standing using resouces currently available.

I hope I have been able to show education as the two, three, and even four way street I believe the process has become.

Have a great Sunday, folks.

Oh, wait. I almost forgot. One last recommendation. Fire the entire school board and replace the members with representatives supplied by the active PTA, PTO, PTSA, (or whatever will be popular next year,) and let people who are actually intimately familiar with conditions at, and needs of, the areas individual schools run the show. This Council on Education can elected a president from within their own, eliminating the need for a costly position currently held by Dr. Register. Best of all, that person will not be beholding to the Mayor or Metro Council.

I believe there may be some merit.

By: C.A.Jones on 2/14/13 at 8:39

I love the logic of the school board.

"If East Nashville can't have super smart kids, Can't nobody have super smart kids"!

Way to go Nashville!!! Let's keep the dumbest sons of bitches in the country as teachers turning out dumber and dumber kids all in the name of DIVERSITY!!!! Because as we ALL know.. Black people are afraid of schools?? WTF Nashville... Grow up.