School board votes to close one charter, passes on fighting state over another

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 12:55am

The Metro school board took a pass for now on fighting the state of Tennessee over the $3.4 million state officials withheld from the district following the Great Hearts Academies saga.

But in the wake of discussion over that long-running charter school issue, the board soon turned the charter spotlight on Smithson Craighead Middle School, voting 8-1 to close the school — open since 2009 — at the end of the year.

Before a standing-room-only crowd at the Tuesday evening meeting, board members debated offering Smithson Craighead a probationary period, but in the end followed recommendations from district officials to close the school for ranking in the bottom 5 percent of schools statewide.

While the school had made improvements over the last three years, the charter school still lagged behind average MNPS schools, according to district records.

Students across the district averaged 38.9 percent proficient in math, 41.5 percent in reading language arts and 44.9 percent in science. Proficiency among students from Smithson Craighead were 7.5 percent, 18 percent and 10.9 percent, respectively.

Deciding now to close the school allows parents to apply to other choice schools across the district during the “optional schools” application period that runs through Nov. 30 if they don’t want to go back to their zoned schools.

The Tennessee Charter Schools Association agreed with the closure in a statement released shortly after the vote.

“We support the decision of MNPS and believe the Smithson Craighead students deserve a better school option,” said Matt Throckmorton, the association’s executive director. “We applaud the hard work of the contributors to this charter school as well as the MNPS board for this difficult decision.”

The board’s decision on Smithson Craighead came immediately after discussion of the Great Hearts dilemma, during which the board shot down a motion to hire independent legal counsel after identifying a potential conflict of interest with its current counsel. The board, however, left itself open to consider re-evaluating it’s legal counsel going forward at next month’s meeting.

“I feel like we’re in a 12-chapter book. The final pages are being written at last, so we’ll see what happens next,” said Will Pinkston, a board member.

The issue is an outgrowth of a months-long debate over the Great Hearts charter school application. The school board repeatedly rejected the application citing concerns with diversity issues. Two of the rejections were in apparent defiance of state orders to OK the application, prompting the state to withhold $3.4 million in funding and to distribute it to other schools across the state at the end of the year.

The last lawyer the board metwith about whether to pursue legal action against the state for withholding funds was Chuck Cagle, an attorney who lobbies for the Shelby County Board of Education and the Association of Independent/Municipal School Districts — groups that could benefit from the extra funds.

Cagle also represents Career Education Association, the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents and Pearson Education Inc., a company that does millions of dollars in business with the state of Tennessee annually.

Also, to meet with MNPS, Cagle is paid through Metro Nashville’s legal department, according to MNPS spokeswoman Olivia Brown, and Mayor Karl Dean was a vocal supporter of Great Heart’s charter school application.

Amy Frogge, a board member pushing to take the battle to court, indicated interest in discussing if the school board should change who it regularlyuses as legal counsel in the future, which could include a possible second look at suing the Tennessee Department of Education.

Last month, members signaled that they may not have the stomach to wage a legal war with the state to get that money back, although some voices on the board, including Frogge, said it was worth it.

The board also decided to allow Director of Schools Jesse Register to talk to officials at Great Hearts Academies about what went wrong with this year’s application process and how to reopen the door if the Phoenix-based charter wants to try again in Nashville.

Great Hearts has indicated it’s interested in lobbying lawmakers on Capitol Hill to instead approve a statewide charter authority so it can sidestep Metro’s school board.

17 Comments on this post:

By: Rasputin72 on 11/14/12 at 12:05

It is not often that I send plaudits to the Davidson County school board. The closing of this academic sham is a call for ajob well done school board.

By: Trumpet on 11/14/12 at 5:08

Joe/The Collection:

TESTING-Testing! Testing-testing ONE-TWO-THREE!!
Testing-1-2-!!! Hey Avon...AVON, this Microphone working?

One Heart

By: DavidSchwetty on 11/14/12 at 7:42

But Smithson Craighead has the best football team in the city.....doesn't that count for something? Does the metro schoolboard have any idea how inconvenient this will make it for Ensworth to now have to visit a handful of schools to fill its recruiting class instead of just coming to SC and cherry picking from the SC all-star team.

By: knilob on 11/14/12 at 8:44

So true, Schwetty. So true. Is it just me, or does anyone else think the Metro Nashville Middle School Football Coaches Association has a strong lobbying arm?

By: KENW on 11/14/12 at 9:44

I think this is great, when a school chronically under performs, make a change, including shutting it down. Too bad we can't do this with public schools.

Great Hearts was a wonderful opportunity missed by this school board. I'm glad the state fined them, and because of the school board actions I support the state taking over charter approvals. The Metro Nashville School Board fought against choice, improvement and quality education. Amy Frogge ought to be ashamed of herself, but instead she's trying to cover up her mistake with a costly, frivolous lawsuit. What a small mind.

By: cowboyjoe on 11/14/12 at 10:34

Less about coaches losing players and more about the dismal achievement at Smithson-Craighead. They had already been given several chances by the board to improve their scores.

By: GoodieTwoShoes on 11/14/12 at 10:41

So when the school board does what it's supposed to do and shut down a local charter school; offer no probation period, just shut them down, we cheer. And say that it's best for the students.
But when the school board does it's job and denies a school because it doesn't meet the standards set; we tell them they broke the law and punish all our students for that out of state school and say it's best for the students.

By: KENW on 11/14/12 at 2:43

The so-called standard of diversity you mean? Smithson-Craighead had one hispanic student, two white students, and 285 black students. That's not diversity in my book. You'll see similar dynamics in other charter schools that the board has approved. This isn't about diversity. The whole argument against Great Hearts was to block quality alternatives and eliminate any kind of competition. But no worries, the fight for below average has won out, at least for now, thanks to Amy Frogge.

By: GoodieTwoShoes on 11/14/12 at 3:43

That was not the only standard, just the most talked about one. There has got to be other things that can be done here. What is so great about this one school that we are willing to pave their way into town with gold? These people have basically let great hearts know that they don't have to follow the rules, we'll change the entire system for you. Oh just please come to our state all our kids will suffer if you don't. I hope that Amy Frogge continues in her stand. If great hearts really wants to be here then follow the rules like everybody else. They were not the only charter school turned down. Are any of the others trying to go around the system?

By: jonw on 11/14/12 at 4:38

GoodieTwoShoes : To what rules do you refer? Oh yeah, the diversity plan that Metro does not have.
Yeah let Amy keep wasting money with her social engineering experiments instead of educating children.

By: DavidSchwetty on 11/14/12 at 4:55

Ken, surely you're aware that in today's day and age diversity means not white

By: pswindle on 11/14/12 at 7:05

I hope the Board does not give in to the state and Great Hearts. They will come in to a district take the money and close down in three years. They do not have the right personel to run schools. They have one or two degreed teachers and the ohers are not. That way they can pay them less and pocket the money on their savings. I can't believe that the state is overpowering the local school boards. If there were teachers' unions, the teachers, children and schools would not be run over as they are doing now. This was one of he main reason that they wanted to do away with unions. There is no one to stand up for the kids or anyone else in the eductional system.

By: Trumpet on 11/15/12 at 2:33

Joe/The Collection:

Testing-1-2. Avon...AVON, SENIOR!! I believe this Microphone is broken...
...not working...not turned-on...or something.

But... it could be that "they" aren't listening. Maybe they have hearing problems, too.


By: Kosh III on 11/16/12 at 6:24

Why not ask Great Hearts to take over Smithson-Craighead? O wait! it's student body isn't affluent and lily-white. Never mind......

By: kellyfretz on 11/16/12 at 11:15

Charter schools take needed resources away from the public school system. As it has been said, there really isn't a lot of diversity in any of the current charter schools. I have a petition regarding the $3.4 million that the state took because Gov. Haslam and Commissioner Huffman didn't get their way with the Great Hearts situation. Please sign it, metro schools cannot afford to have any money taken from them. Thank you.

By: Balo on 11/16/12 at 3:35


It is uplifting to read your comments concerning the charter schools. I think you give people hope that there is a program, Great Hearts, on the way to improve public education. Although the Arizona system reminds me of the 19th century carpetbaggers, you are positive that they will bring quality education to our city, however my definition of a quality education is a lot different than yours. I know that the kids of this city are anxiously waiting to be taught by those Teach America teachers, the ones who graduated from college and are unemployment. As you stated it is a choice, teachers who are dedicated and make a career or the unemployed sign a 2 year contract rent a teacher.

You made another good point about Mrs Frogge. I am not familiar with the size of her brain, but she uses it as an independent thinker. Unlike her clueless counter parts who have to wait on the direction of the wind provided by the political powers. In fact, your words about Mrs Frogge are similar to a newspaper article last week. Talking about a small mind. NENW take off the leash.

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