Competing online petitions have formed for and against Arizona-based Great Hearts Academies’ Nashville charter school  proposal, offering a glimpse at the looming debate as the school board prepares to consider a record number of charter applications in May.
On one side are parents who argue Great Hearts  — seeking to open as many as five privately led, publicly funded charters across Davidson County — offers rigorous academics, a “world-class education” that nurtures the “moral, social and philosophical growth” of all students.
But then there’s the dueling argument , spelled out in a separate petition created over the weekend, which hits on the crux of the controversy: the state’s new open enrollment charter law, which Great Hearts plans to utilize as indicated in its application.
The organization operates 12 charter schools in the Phoenix area. Its Nashville school would be its first outside that region, and it’s already generated plenty of chatter.
“By holding students to the highest standards and instilling them with a love for learning, Great Hearts graduates students with the ability to excel in some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the nation,” states the petition in favor of Great Hearts, concluding with a plea to the nine-member board for final approval.
Organized in late March, that petition boasts 478 signatures.
Historically, charter schools in Nashville have served the economically disadvantaged. Great Hearts, which arrived in Nashville following a push from West Nashville parents, would have a “mixed-income” focus, presumably appealing to parents of students who struck out in the magnet school lottery and are weighing private school enrollment.
“We believe that [Great Hearts] will easily exceed their test score targets by drawing from the high-scoring private and public school student populations in West Nashville,” the counter petition reads.
It continues, “We are concerned, in principle, that public funds will be added to private funds and will create an economically exclusive enclave for a few lottery-selected students.”
This group, led by Metro school parent Chris Moth, calls itself “Nashvillians Concerned about Great Hearts.” The petition urges the school board to either ensure Great Hearts maintain a student body that is at least 40 percent free and reduced lunch qualifiers, or to vote against Great Hearts’ proposal.
With 37 signatures, the anti-Great Hearts coalition has some catch-up to reach their counterparts.
In all, 11 organizations have applied to open new charter schools in Nashville for the 2013-14 school year.
Great Hearts officials, declining to say where they would open their first Nashville school, have seen large turnouts at community meetings held in all parts of the city. Meetings began over the winter with two gatherings in West Nashville. The organization is also considering an expansion to San Antonio.
Under Metro’s charter review process, a charter review committee is to decide by this Friday which applicants to invite for interviews. Recommended charters would then go before the school board, with final votes likely taking place during the final week of May.