Five new charter schools received approval Tuesday night to open next school year, including Crosstown High and an early college high school involving Southwest Tennessee Community College.
Two others, both run by the Memphis Business Academy, were approved earlier this summer. The five approved Tuesday all required revisions to their applications after an initial rejection.
Despite concerns about the growth of charters depleting resources for traditional schools, the Shelby County School board approved new schools for Crosstown High School, Inc.; Gateway University Schools of Applied Sciences, Inc.; Legacy Leadership Academy; Kaleidoscope Schools, and Artesian Schools.
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the schools were the first to be required to sign a contract with the district that would charge a 4 percent administrative fee to the schools. The lack of a contract with other charter schools has been an issue, as operators have complained about being held to unfair performance standards and the school district has lamented having to staff an office to oversee charters with no extra funding.
The vote on the first four schools Tuesday night was 7-2, with board members Stephanie Love and Shante Avant the only dissenters, but the vote on Artesian was a narrow 5-4. Artesian is the charter operator partnering with Southwest on a school that will offer students the chance to take both high school and college classes and to work toward an associate degree.
Rejected for the second time, and with a single unanimous vote, were Green Dot Public Schools of Tennessee, Pathway in Education and The LeFlore Foundation. All three can appeal to the Tennessee State Board of Education. Hopson said all three were rejected for performance reasons.
Crosstown High, a partnership with Christian Brothers University, received the green light to open a school for 500 students in Crosstown Concourse, the 1.1 million square-foot building under renovation on North Watkins in Midtown. Plans for the school had been discussed in several other meetings, with board members voicing general support for a school to open in that building.
Christian Brothers President John Smarrelli was present for the vote and said the school is ready to move forward hiring staff and doing more construction.
“We’re very excited to get the endorsement of the Shelby County board,” he said.
Board members issued concerns about the financial impact of charter school growth, particularly with the plan for Artesian to open its school on Southwest’s Gill Campus.
Love said she is concerned the school will take students away from the schools already in Frayser. She also noted that most students in the high-poverty area are behind academically.
“If they are barely getting the high school portion, explain to me how they’re going to get the college portion?” Love said.
Artesian CEO Ashley Smith said the school plans to recruit all across the city, so it will not put a drain directly on the Frayser schools.
As for whether the students could handle the advanced course work, “the model helps build them up so they are ready,” Smith said.
Board chairwoman Teresa Jones, who broke the 4-4 tie with her vote, said she generally agreed with Love and had concerns about the school’s financial impact, but felt that if the board denied the school, the state would overturn the decision.
Jones noted the rubric used to decide whether a charter should be approved does not ask questions about neighborhood impact. “That needs to be considered,” she said.