The Tennessee Department of Education could turn two Metro Schools over to charter organizations or other education groups as early as this fall, as outlined by the state’s recently drafted Race to the Top application.
Glencliff High School and Cameron Middle School — after continued failure to meet academic benchmarks — already fall under the “Restructuring 2” category, established in the federal No Child Left Behind act, which grants the state the authority to implement alternative governances at both schools. Though the state hasn’t taken over either school, both receive state resources.
In its attempt to land up to $400 million in federal Race to the Top funds, the state has elaborated on what a takeover would look like, creating a so-called “achievement school district,” in which 13 low-performing schools across the state are eligible, including Glencliff and Cameron.
Eight of the other eligible schools are part of Memphis City Schools, and one each in Jackson, Chattanooga and Knoxville.
Under the arrangement, Tim Webb, the state’s education commissioner, would be authorized to oversee all academic activities at schools inside the “achievement school district,” with the state using Race to the Top dollars to contract charter school partners or other nonprofits –– local universities, for example –– for assistance.
The scenario would call for the Metro Nashville Board of Education to still govern non-academic items such as cafeteria services. Schools would remain in the “achievement school district” for three to five years.
“In statute, even before the special session, we basically had most of the powers associated with what we’re proposing to do,” said Rachel Woods, director of communications for the Tennessee Department of Education. “This just clarified it exactly –– set up how we would do it.”
Nothing is binding, however. Woods said state administrators are set to begin conversations this fall with Metro Nashville Public Schools to determine if the district is already undertaking a “bold reform plan” to turn around Metro’s two eligible schools.
“These schools may be taken over,” Woods said of Glencliff and Cameron. “It just depends on what we work out with the district. ... Clearly, these schools are going to be eligible for that in the fall, but we would like to see improvement.
“If they can bring us some proof, some data, something that shows they’re really turning these schools around, then we’re going to be much less likely to do some sort of full takeover,” she said.
School board Chair David Fox said he’s hopeful the education department will examine closely all the schools within the “achievement school district,” taking into account plans already in place to foster school turnaround.
“Frankly, I think if a school district cannot put forward a persuasive turnaround plan for a school that’s been on the failing list for multiple years, there needs to be an outside entity come in and take responsibility for it,” Fox said. “That’s my view.”
In the past, the state has intervened at Maplewood High School, hand-picking a new principal to lead the school as part of a “fresh start” process, as opposed to a full-fledged takeover.