Neighborhood councils to review proposed state charters for six Memphis schools

Alicia Tomlinson was already worried about whether her son was getting a proper education when she learned her son was one of six schools in Memphis targeted by the state takeover due to poor academic performance.

Tomlinson, 41, therefore applied to join a community panel that state officials say will help determine the future of Hawkins Mill Elementary School. The state-run Achievement School District is proposing to remove Hawkins Mill from the control of Shelby County schools and convert it to a charter school operated by ASD.

“I firmly believe that I should do my best to see what other options I have to make sure my son gets the best education,” said Tomlinson, whose son Jacobi is a freshman at Hawkins Mill. . “I wanted to see for myself what ASD has to offer my son.”

Tomlinson is expected to know earlier this week if she has been selected to serve on one of the four Neighborhood Advisory Councils created by ASD as part of its new process to engage parents, community leaders and others. local stakeholders in the decision-making process.

The guidance is a critical part of the district’s new community engagement initiative, launched over the summer after ASD officials recognized many missteps in supporting other schools in Memphis during its first three years of operation.

“We have heard loud and clear from all of our stakeholders that there are some questions we want operators to be able to answer about whether they will be a perfect fit for these schools,” said Anjelica Hardin, director of the partnership strategy for ASD.

ASD leaders say the need for state intervention at Hawkins Mill is clear, while Shelby County school leaders have touted existing plans to help the school improve without intervention of State.

Last year, just 16% of students at Hawkins Mill were proficient or advanced in language arts reading, almost 37% in math, and almost 28% in science. The school is on the state’s priority list as one of the poorest 5% of schools in Tennessee, allowing ASD to intervene under state law.

In previous years, the state’s school recovery district announced which schools would be taken over and quickly introduced its new charter operators. For the most part, the community was approached after the decision had already been made. As part of ASD’s new process, parents and community members on the boards interact with interested charter operators throughout the fall and review operator requests, which are expected to be submitted by October 23.

“We want people to know that this is really a community decision that is a priority area for the management team,” said Hardin, “and that people really know that this is a great opportunity. to get involved, because the decision is literally in your hands. “

However, critics questioned the real power of the advice. ASD leaders will make the final decision in early December, after board members submit individual assessments of charter candidates. If the process does not produce a match between a school and an operator, the school will remain with schools in Shelby County, according to ASD spokeswoman Letita Aaron.

ASD-led training for selected board members is expected to begin next week.

ASD aims to have 10 members in each of its four boards, half of whom are parents. Of the 190 requests received, 85 were from relatives, Aaron said. Parents, in particular, had been encouraged to apply at numerous community meetings held in schools over the past two months by leaders of ASD and Shelby County schools.

Some stakeholders questioned whether the resulting pool of candidates was sufficient to adequately represent the school communities.

Patricia Merriweather, principal of Sheffield Elementary, another school targeted for the recovery, said Sheffield has a large percentage of Hispanic students and English language learners. “I’m okay with the process as long as it’s fair,” Merriweather said. “They promised me there would be people on the panel who have been to Sheffield.”

Tomlinson is one of three parents who applied to serve on the Hawkins Mill board.

“I was a little surprised that there weren’t more parents,” Tomlinson said of the interview process that followed. “Parents’ participation is the weakest link which should be the strongest presence. “

Going forward, Tomlinson said she has no preference whether Hawkins Mill stays in the Memphis-based district or joins the state-run district, as long as her son receives the best possible education.

“I’m just a mom,” she said, “(but) I appreciate the way they involve us.”


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