Mayor Karl Dean, injecting himself into two Metro school board decisions, said he’s “deeply disappointed” about the board’s vote to deny KIPP Academy’s charter expansion and hopes Great Hearts Academies would address diversity concerns in a revised charter application.
“The Great Hearts academic program is understandably attractive to many Nashville parents seeking additional educational options,” Dean, an outspoken charter advocate, said in a statement Thursday evening . “I encourage Great Hearts and Metro Schools to work together to find a solution.”
Dean’s statement comes two days after the school board Tuesday voted  to approve two publicly financed, privately led charters and to deny the applications of eight others. Rejected charter applicants have until June 13 to appeal the board’s decision.
School board chair Gracie Porter told The City Paper Thursday she wasn’t prepared to respond to Dean’s statement when asked to comment. “Applicants always have the opportunity to reapply,” she said. “That’s a part of the process. That would be strictly up to them.”
Randy Dowell, executive director of KIPP Nashville, has vowed he would appeal the board’s decision. Great Hearts officials have not revealed their plans.
KIPP, a national charter organization that operates a middle school in East Nashville, is hoping to win approval for a new Whites Creek-area middle school, a plan the school board voted 5-1, with one abstention, to reject. The vote came despite the Metro charter review committee’s recommendation to approve KIPP’s expansion.
Board member Mark North, who represents parts of Madison on the board, unleashed a series of concerns with KIPP’s academic record, which set the tone for the board’s ultimate rejection of its expansion proposal Tuesday.
In his statement, Dean defended KIPP’s reputation.
“KIPP is one of the most highly-regarded national charter organizations in the country and does an outstanding job in an area of great need in Nashville –– educating our at-risk children,” Dean said.
“We have made great progress as a city in our approach to giving parents more choices through charters, and this denial sends a negative message to the rest of the country as to our position on charter schools,” Dean said.
Great Hearts, which operates 12 charter schools in the Phoenix area, has proposed opening a network five charter schools in Nashville but hasn’t specified where the first school would locate.
Great Hearts’ entry to Nashville followed a parent-led push for a new charter school in the affluent West Nashville area, leading critics to believe the school would cater to students whose parents could just as easily pay for private schooling.
After no deliberation, the board voted unanimously to deny its application at the recommendation of Metro’s charter review committee, which cited its lack of a location plan, transportation plan and policy to ensure diversity, among other concerns.
On Great Hearts, Dean said the school board “raised legitimate issues of diversity and transportation,” adding that “charters need to be positioned in a way that serves the entire community.”
Nonetheless, the mayor indicated a desire for Great Hearts to appeal the board’s decision once it alters its application.
“I hope Great Hearts can reasonably address those concerns in a revised application and children in Nashville can benefit from the high-level academic program for which this charter operator is known,” Dean said.
In putting his clout behind KIPP and making a softer appeal for Great Hearts, the mayor singled out two charter organizations he’s extended his hand to in the past.
Dean routinely speaks highly of KIPP as a high-performing charter. He also spearheaded a $16 million Metro-funded renovation of the school’s existing East Nashville facility, the old Highland Heights building on Douglas Avenue.
Meanwhile, the mayor led the opening remarks at one of Great Hearts’ first community meetings in Nashville after the charter group arrived from Arizona to test the demand for its school here.
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