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A charter leader from Indianapolis, Marcus Robinson spent two years as the CEO of the Memphis Education Fund, a philanthropic collaborative that invests in education improvement initiatives for Memphis schools. He is now leaving for St. Louis.

A charter leader from Indianapolis, Marcus Robinson spent two years as the CEO of the Memphis Education Fund, a philanthropic collaborative that invests in education improvement initiatives for Memphis schools. He is now leaving for St. Louis.

Matt Detrich/The Indianapolis Star

Indianapolis charter school star Marcus Robinson to head Memphis teacher group

The former leader of a high-achieving charter school network in Indianapolis is the new CEO of a philanthropically funded initiative in Memphis known as Teacher Town.

Marcus Robinson is the first full-time CEO of the city’s teacher development and recruitment initiative now in its third year. He joined Teacher Town during the summer following a national search conducted by Boston-based Bellwether Education Partners.

Robinson, 44, was the founder and longtime leader of Tindley Accelerated Schools, a 12-year-old charter school network lauded for transforming a low-income neighborhood while producing high-achieving students. He resigned in February amid criticism over some of his business travel expenses.

Robinson fills a void created when Teacher Town board chairman Terence Patterson, who had served as the organization’s part-time CEO, was hired late last year to lead the Downtown Memphis Commission.

In his new role, Robinson will lead an organization recruiting and developing educators to work in public schools serving mostly black students from low-income families in Memphis. Local community and philanthropic leaders launched Teacher Town in 2014 with national philanthropic support to drive teacher improvement and move 80,000 students from low-performing schools to higher-quality options.

Tindley’s first school, which opened in a former grocery store in 2004, earned a National Blue Ribbon Schools Award in 2010. By then, the school was exceeding state averages on standardized tests, crime in the neighborhood had dropped, and some families were moving into the neighborhood to be closer to the school.

In 2012, Indiana education officials tapped Robinson to lead one of its first state takeovers of a traditional public school. But the high school, formerly run by Indianapolis Public Schools, made only modest gains on state tests. By 2014, Robinson pulled Tindley from managing the school, complaining that the state was not providing enough financial support for success.

Robinson resigned from Tindley earlier this year after questions surfaced about his business travel expenses while the charter network’s finances were stretched thin by an expansion he led but which fell short of enrollment targets. He and the school’s board of directors said he had resigned to complete his doctorate degree from Columbia University.

Tindley Accelerated Schools has 1,600 mostly black students in six schools and last fall was awarded an $8.7 million state loan — about half its budget — to stay afloat, according to the Indianapolis Business Journal.

Memphis is a national hub of school turnaround work being pioneered through two models: the state-run Achievement School District, or ASD, which takes over struggling local schools and assigns high-quality charter networks to manage them, and the Innovation Zone, an in-house initiative of Shelby County Schools that does not use charter schools.

“My hope … is that Teacher Town becomes a lead partner with both education operators and advocacy groups to create sustainable, high-achieving practice for inner-city kids in Memphis,” Robinson said Thursday. “It’s incumbent upon our organization to not just lead in the education reform community, but to be in partnership with the district, the ASD and the various charter operators who are all on the same lift trying to get our kids in a better place.”

Reporter Caroline Bauman contributed to this story.

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