Two new Metro charter schools win approval — but not Great Hearts or KIPP

Tuesday, May 29, 2012 at 11:52pm

Two new charter schools are cleared to open in Metro, but the school board delivered its biggest statement Tuesday by denying the district’s most controversial charter applicant: Great Hearts Academies.

The Metro school board gave charter authorization Tuesday to Intrepid College Prep, conceived as a fifth-12th-grade school in Antioch, and Nashville Classical, a K-eighth-grade school set to eventually serve students in North Nashville. When the two schools open in the fall of 2013, Nashville will have 15 operating charter schools.

The school board denied the applications of eight charter organizations, however, including KIPP Academy, one of Nashville’s most celebrated existing charters, which had proposed launching a new middle school in Whites Creek. The vote to deny KIPP’s request, which surprised most observers, came despite a review committee’s recommendation for approval.

“We will appeal this decision and not go quietly into the night,” KIPP Nashville Executive Director Randy Dowell said late Tuesday.

Yet the most debated decision could be the board’s rejection of Arizona-based Great Hearts Academies, an organization backed by local political heavyweights that had proposed a network of five charters in Nashville. With plans to take advantage of the state’s open enrollment law, Great Hearts would welcome students from upper-class families –– a first for a publicly financed, privately led charter in Metro.

Scores of parents have rallied behind Great Hearts as a remedy for overcrowded schools on the city's west side and a magnet school system with limited capacity, but Metro’s charter review committee pointed to concerns with diversity. The school board agreed with the criticism, voting unanimously to deny Great Hearts’ application.

“It had some real strengths in curriculum,” Director of Schools Jesse Register said of the Great Hearts application. “But when you look at some of the guiding principles that the board has adopted in looking at charter schools, there were some unanswered questions there that were very serious –– for example, the diversity plan, the lack of a concrete plan for transportation, and the lack of a concrete plan for the location of schools.”

Register also pointed to Metro’s position as a defendant in the federal suit, Spurlock v. Fox, in which the district is the subject of a suit based on allegations of re-segregation. He suggested approving Great Hearts could compromise Metro’s case. “It’s been discussed –– the impact of an application like Great Hearts on the diversity in the school system,” he said.

Exiting Tuesday’s board meeting, Peter Bezanson, chief academic officer of Great Hearts, told The City Paper he’s “disappointed” in the board’s decision but declined to comment further.

Bezanson also declined to say whether Great Hearts would appeal the board’s rejection.

Denied charter applicants have until June 13 to make changes and resubmit applications to the school board. They can then appeal Metro’s decision to the state board of education, which could effectively override Metro’s vote.

Officials of Great Hearts, who manage 12 schools in charter-rich Arizona, arrived in Nashville over the winter following a parent-led push for a new charter school on the more affluent west side of town. In their application, Great Hearts officials did not identify where they would place each school, but many critics assumed the first would be somewhere west of town.

Alan Coverstone, Metro’s director of charter and magnet schools, said not only did Great Hearts not identify a location, “they also didn’t commit to a criteria for determining the location or a timeline to determining the location.” Moreover, he said Great Hearts did not make it clear whom they would serve.

Coverstone, who oversees Metro’s charter review committee, said Great Hearts outlined a “neighborhood-schools approach to diversity,” which doesn’t align with Metro’s policy. Unlike existing Metro charters, Great Hearts would not offer transportation to its students.

Coverstone also said the district is not in position to award approval of all five of Great Hearts’ proposed charter schools without observing the performance of its first.

“They want to have five schools, and we don’t have a process in place to grant them an application for one school that would then be followed up by subsequent approvals,” he said. “They didn’t propose benchmarks that we should use in making those decisions.”

Leading up to Tuesday’s vote, supporters of Great Hearts had collected nearly 1,000 signatures through an online petition that urged the board to approve the application. Several backers were on hand to watch Great Hearts’ proposal go down in defeat after no board deliberation.

Great Hearts is also considering an expansion to San Antonio, and a final rejection in Nashville might steer the group to Texas.

The decision on KIPP Academy –– which enjoys a high-profile board of directors and frequent support of the mayor’s office –– shocked many Tuesday. KIPP, which operates in East Nashville, is hoping to expand to North Nashville.

Mark North, a charter critic who represents parts of Madison on the board, unleashed a series of concerns with the academic performance of the existing KIPP, which ultimately set the tone for the board’s rejection of its expansion proposal.

“It had a bad year in 2010-11, and the test scores show it,” North said. “It did not perform up to standards for a middle school in Metro Nashville Public Schools.”

North said KIPP’s value-added scores for social studies were “the worst” among all Metro eighth-graders. “And their science score is worse than that.”

Dowell, KIPP Nashville’s executive director, defended the academic reputation of his school as he vowed to appeal. “Last year, our KIPP Nashville middle school students had the largest growth in reading for any middle school in the state serving a similar population of students from low-income families,” he said.

Defending both Great Hearts and KIPP was Matt Throckmorton, executive director of the Tennessee Charter Schools Association, the state’s chief charter lobbying organization.

“With KIPP, the disappointment there is the review committee went through the process in detail and recommended approval,” Throckmorton told The City Paper. “The board voted ‘No.’ ”

Besides Great Hearts and KIPP, the school board also denied the charter applications for: Antioch Together Prep, Excel Academy, Fusion Connection of Nashville, Gifted Achievers University School, Purpose Prep and Genesis Transition.

20 Comments on this post:

By: East37206 on 5/29/12 at 10:23

"We know KIPP and we like KIPP. KIPP is a good charter school."

Who said that?

Answer: Mark North, before he proceeds to lead the board to deny KIPP, based on a serious misrepresentation of KIPP's academic performance. Forget the whole process MNPS had established where a team of independent reviewers had spent a month looking at KIPP's application and voted to APPROVE THEM.

If you're using testing as the only gauge of a school's success, which is apparently Mr. North's standard, KIPP outshines nearly every middle school in 2011 TVASS growth measures (state & Nashville). See for yourself:

Ahead of 35 MNPS middle schools in math growth:

Ahead of 36 MNPS middle schools in reading growth:

When you compare KIPP to other middle schools that serve primarily poor kids, they are near the top.

Mark North's decision was politically motivated. Pure and simple. He should stick with writing kids books, even though he's not good at that either.

I'm giving up on the idea that people make decisions for the best interest of kids in the MNPS school system, it's clearly about making selfish greedy decisions.

Mark North needs a new line of work.

By: itsmyfirstday on 5/30/12 at 5:23

The way to fix our schools is with Vouchers. Forcing poor families to send there children to a low performing school will only ensure jobs for under achieving school personnel and future poor family's.
A good education is the best way to succeed in life. It's a shame that the poor must suffer.

By: westisbest on 5/30/12 at 5:31

The diversity argument is ridiculous. We need to get school board members who care about the education of of the kids. Every year, families with higher incomes and in higher tax brackets flee Davidson Co and cram into Williamson because the of the schools. This leaves the remaining middle to upper class in Davidson sending their kids to private schools. If you are like me, you can 1.move to Williamson Co 2. pay 11-15,000 a year in tution for one kid 3. send my kids to a public failing school. we are not zoned for any other options. just one failure.
There is already a great divide and the school board is doing nothing to remedy this. Give families more options- not just options to the the low income families. Give options to everyone. Turning down a school like Great Hearts was just another failure by this school system. Wake up and smell the coffee.

By: Rasputin72 on 5/30/12 at 5:33

Only those familiar with culture could have predicted the ultimate outcome of the 1954 Supreme Court decision.

By: spooky24 on 5/30/12 at 5:45

First, professionals, who are appointed, are needed to run the school board doing away with the notion that parents know what is better for students. Has there ever been a more dysfunctional entity, funded with taxpayer money, than this current board? It is simply painful to watch a board made up of unqualified parents overseeing a totally bloated school system that continues to parley away more and more funding, always achieving poorer results. About the only thing it can do is lowering the standards of accomplishment to seemingly show improvement.


By: Edpol2012 on 5/30/12 at 6:48

@westisbest at least you already have options. Most kids and families don't. Be thankful. #upperclassproblems

By: JeffF on 5/30/12 at 7:42

You could always win the lottery and get into the 4-6 metro schools that don't suck. They are quite proud of them being ranked, it distracts from the 96% of schools that suck like a Korean massage parlor.

By: BASPUD on 5/30/12 at 9:06

i am glad metro denied kipp it is out dated eye sore it should be torn down and a new school built it should be made back into a metro school not a charter school

By: pswindle on 5/30/12 at 9:31

We need to go back to appointed school board members. Where the right ones are on the board. We have tried electing them, but they are not always the best fit for education. After all is said and done, Charter Schools will fall by the way-side and public school will again take center stage. Charter Schools have been tried for years, and then they go back to where education of all takes place. Public education offers the child every advantage of interest and that helps the child to succeed. The GOP has for years wanted to get out of the business of educating the masses. If that happens we will truly become a third-world country. Education has been the strength of America. Mitt wants to get rid of the Dept. of Education. Think about that! All that would do is to weaken the education systems across our country. There would be no rules or regulations.

By: Specter47 on 5/30/12 at 10:24

You're right on target, westisbest. "Diversity" is code for, "few, if any, whites". Diversity means that white kids don't get the opportunities offered other kids. In Metro Schools, opportunity means that if you are black or some other "color", then you are given greater chances to improve your life through superior education. Middle class white kids are on their own. Great Hearts offers a fantastic opportunity to ALL kids. If you meet the admission standards and can find transportation to the school, you're in! Magnet Schools and specialty schools don't offer transportation to the schools, so why should a Charter? There are just so many bogus arguments against Great Hearts, that I hope they appeal directly to the State Dept. of Ed. Even rich white kids deserve opportunities at a public school, whether it's a Charter, Magnet, or traditional. EVERY kid deserves that same opportunity..."diversity" be damned.

By: mac7500 on 5/30/12 at 10:38

@pswindle: Charter schools ARE Public schools. The things that need to "fall by the wayside" are BAD public schools.

By: timlee on 5/30/12 at 1:02

The school board we elected has once again let our city and children down. They claim to push for education excellence; but, when a school such as Great Hearts comes to town that clearly demonstrates excellence and a history of success, they turn them away because they don’t fit into the current mold of our system. A mold which is clearly and definitively broken! Coverstone even admitted to the success of Great Hearts and then produced a recommendation of denial!! The diversity argument is ridiculous, unless diversity only comes from low income neighborhoods. The media and critics of Great Hearts continually label West Nashville as an affluent white upper class neighborhood. Does this mean we should not be afforded the same opportunity to a quality publicly-funded education? To set the record straight everyone that lives in this area does not make enough money to send their children to private school. We actually pay more taxes in our area which are used to fund these public options and we should be afforded the same opportunity to take advantage of them as in any other part of town or income bracket.

By: timlee on 5/30/12 at 1:03

The diversity argument is ridiculous and seems to be a cover story for some political agenda. Great Hearts intended to open schools all over town giving every family the opportunity to lottery in. A lottery system does not give an advantage to one race or socio-economic status over another. Realistically, a west Nashville neighborhood association is responsible for recruiting Great Hearts in the first place. In all fairness, West Nashville should receive the first installation of this new education system. The entire reason this recruitment initiative was started in the first place is because our current options are so extremely limited. I have twins starting school in the Fall of 2013 and I am currently faced with sending them to a sub-standard public school, moving to a different county (I have lived in this neighborhood my entire life and have no interest in moving), or paying 20-38k in tuition alone for my children to attend a private school. Is it really in Davidson County’s best interest to drive families with higher incomes and higher tax brackets to other counties? I think not. The root of the problem is the lack of performance in our public school system and the failure of the school board in implement the right kind of solutions to address and fix the problems.

By: pswindle on 5/30/12 at 2:01

Of course Charter Schools take money from the public schools. But so far they have not been successful, and they cannot offer anything near what public schools can offer. One thing, every empoyee does not need the right credentials.

By: timlee on 5/30/12 at 4:04

Before I had children, my tax money was supporting public schools. Now that I have children, I should have the choice to fund either public or charter schools. As far as public schools offering something charter schools do not, what would that be. MNPS are not exceeding or for that matter even meeting the bench marks they place on them self. That is the reason to support Great Hearts, they have a proven track record.

By: mac7500 on 5/30/12 at 4:13

@pswindle: Charter Schools do not "take money from the public schools." THEY ARE PUBLIC SCHOOLS. And because they can set their own curriculum and hire/fire their own teachers, they are held to MUCH STRICTER ACCOUNTABILITY standards than the non-charter public schools. Bad ones can be closed. Good ones succeed.

By: mac7500 on 5/30/12 at 4:26

@pswindle: Charter schools are PUBLIC schools. Anyone who is interested in the basic facts can check out this short video for more information:

By: pswindle on 5/30/12 at 6:19

Of course they use public funds for Charter Schools. You need to check and see where all of the money goes. They fail because of the lack of money. Where, oh where, does all the money goes? They sound great on paper!

By: think on 5/30/12 at 7:13

I think pswindle is just trying to get a rise out of everyone, because I can't seem to figure out what point they are trying to make. Charter Schools are essentially new public schools which are going to educate the same children that would previously have gone to public schools. The same tax payers' kids are getting the same tax payer money.

Either way, this is a tragedy that all of these charter schools are being rejected. Every time I think that Nashville is taking steps toward accountability in the school system (dismantling automatic tenure, pushing back on the unions) they turn and do something backward and counterproductive.

You would think the idea of a neighborhood school would strike a positive chord in this "green" era. Kids walking to school and living on the same street as their classmates doesn't sound that terrible, does it? God forbid we ever have a sense of community.

Diversity is a fun concept as well. It has been a rally cry to make irrational decisions for years but no one ever stops to think about what it actually means. Is every Nashville Public School supposed to reflect the exact racial demographic breakdown of Nashville? What about socioeconomic status? What about religion? What about parent's marriage situation? What about parents careers? What about artistic talents? What about academic skill set? What about sports abilities? What about eye color?

If we have schools that are exactly reflective of Nashville as a whole, will they then be better at teaching students? Or is it based on the idea that if we force people to interact then one day everyone will love everyone?

This is all based upon the flawed concept of equality which has proven disastrous as a model for public schools. Not everyone is equal. Dare I say that some people are smarter than others. Some students learn by doing, others learn by reading, still others learn by listening.

Charter schools allow a rigid, ineffective yet equal socialized education system to be adaptable to different learning styles giving every child a better chance to succeed. Applying failed principles and theories to everyone is not noble just because it is equally ill-advised for all students.

By: Daisycutter47 on 5/31/12 at 12:16

"Think", your comments about diversity is well thought out, so to speak. And though it's true that some Charters do not succeed as advertised, they are more likely to succeed that the typical standard school. But Great Hearts has a wonderful track record of success. MNPS, with Jesse Register and his toe-sucking underlings including Alan Coverstone, does not want to have to admit that an innovative school like the Great Hearts Academy has a better instructional plan than MNPS. Register is bringing MNPS down like he did Chattanooga, and these blind school board members just can't see it.