new year

Here are the Memphis schools opening and closing this school year

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Alcy Elementary Schools is being demolished this summer to make way for a new building on the same property that will also house students from Charjean and Magnolia elementary schools.

Six schools will open and six will close as the new school year begins next month.

This year’s closures are composed mostly of charter schools. That’s a shift from recent years — about two dozen district-run schools have shuttered since 2012. All of the schools opening are charter schools, bringing the district’s total to 57, which is more than half of the charter schools statewide.

Below is a list of closures and openings Chalkbeat has compiled from Shelby County Schools and the state-run Achievement School District.

Schools Opening

  • Believe Memphis Academy is a new college preparatory charter school that will focus on literacy while serving students in fourth and fifth grade, with plans to expand to eighth grade.
  • Crosstown High School will focus on creating student projects that solve problems of local businesses and organizations. The school will start with 150 ninth-graders and will be housed in a building shared with businesses and apartments in Crosstown Concourse, a renovated Sears warehouse.
  • Freedom Preparatory Academy will open its fifth school starting with middle schoolers. It will eventually expand to create the Memphis network’s second high school in the Whitehaven and Nonconnah communities.
  • Memphis Business Academy will open an elementary school and a middle school in Hickory Hill. The schools were originally slated to open in 2017, but were delayed to finalize property and financing, CEO Anthony Anderson said.
  • Perea Elementary School will focus on emotional health and community supports for families living in poverty. District leaders initially rejected its application, but school board members approved it. They liked the organization’s academic and community work with preschoolers in the same building.

Schools Closing

  • Alcy Elementary School will be demolished this summer to make room for a new building. It is expected to open in 2020 with students from Charjean and Magnolia elementary schools.
  • Du Bois High School of Arts and Technology and Du Bois High School of Leadership and Public Policy will close. The charter network’s founder, Willie Herenton, a former Memphis school superintendent, said in April the schools are closing because of a severe shortage of qualified teachers.
  • GRAD Academy, part of the Achievement School District, announced in January the high school would close because the Houston-based charter organization could not sustain it. It was the third school in the district to close since the state-run district started in 2012.
  • Legacy Leadership Academy is closing after its first year because the charter organization lost its federal nonprofit status, and enrollment was low.
  • Manor Lake Elementary is closing to merge with nearby Geeter Middle School because low enrollment made for extra room in their buildings. The new Geeter K-8 will join eight others in the Whitehaven Empowerment Zone, a neighborhood school improvement program started by Vincent Hunter, the principal of Whitehaven High School.

Charter Schools

Politically progressive charter advocates search for new strategy in wake of New York’s blue wave

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Charter school teachers, principals and staff members gather at a rally organized by Families for Excellent Schools.

Steven Wilson was thrilled.

It was the night of Nov. 6, and Democrats had just claimed some major midterm election victories. Wilson, founder of Ascend Public Charter Schools in Brooklyn, described the results as “an expression of revulsion of President Trump and his bottomless depravity.”

But that blue wave put Wilson and other left-leaning charter school supporters in New York in a tricky position. “I also, of course, want to desperately protect charter schools,” he said.

The state’s Democrats — including several progressives and a democratic socialist— took control of the New York Senate on election night for the first time since 2010, unseating Republicans and Democrats who had aligned with the GOP. The ousted politicians had supported increasing funding for charter schools, backed expanding the cap on the number of them allowed in the state and voted against certain oversight measures of the sector, which is publicly funded and privately managed.

In the wake of this sea change, what charter-school advocacy will look like is an open question. Little hope exists that state politicians will raise the controversial cap  — even as only eight slots for new city charter schools remain.

They’re going to get blown out of the water,” said now-Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan on Friday about 80,000 students on waiting lists for charter seats, according to a reporter who tweeted his comments. “The Gov. has never done anything to help them. We’re the only ones who did anything to help them.”

All of this follows the implosion of the charter advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools earlier this year, a group that many saw as leading the charge for building political support for charters in Albany. Its efforts included spending millions on lobbying, ad campaigns, and arranging massive rallies to drum up support.

Charter advocates were wary about sharing their specific political strategies ahead of the 2019 legislative session, which starts in January, beyond saying they’ll continue to support schools they believe in.

But several people — some of whom did not want their names to be published — say the strategy must involve more grassroots organizing, a cornerstone of progressive campaigns, to convince Democrats that charter schools are in line with their interests and more direct outreach to lawmakers as the message about charters is reframed.

A key part of that will involve energizing parents even more than in the past.

“Since 2014, the charter sector’s approach has been almost exclusively two strategies: large scale rallies and campaign contributions,” said Seth Andrew, a former Obama administration official and founder of Democracy Prep Public Schools, a group of charter schools in several U.S. cities, who still advocates for the sector.

“My belief is that we need long-term organizing and grassroots movement building to help elected officials understand why school choice and school quality should be core progressive and democratic values.”

Making new friends

Some charter advocates had been anticipating the flip of New York’s Senate since President Trump’s election two years ago, as his unpopularity grew in urban and suburban communities, and found themselves torn between their personal politics and wanting to protect charters.

“I think we were in the unusual position of wanting to see what would not work out in our favor,” said Steve Zimmerman, co-director of Coalition of Community Charter Schools, of himself and fellow educators who hoped Democrats would win seats across the country.

Now that the election has passed, Zimmerman sees the need to “make the progressive case for charter schools,” which means persuading new, progressive lawmakers that charter schools actually align with their legislative goals.

Like many others in his universe, Zimmerman likes to stress that charter schools are diverse in ideology, don’t all have a “no-excuses” model, a target of charter critics, and are rooted in progressive values: giving all families the opportunity to choose their school, no matter where they live or how much money they make.

“This is a huge opportunity for both sides to be able to make new friends,” said Bob Belliafiore, an education consultant who has advised charter schools and helped push for the state’s charter law in the 1990s. “It seems natural because the new progressive leadership in the Senate is about opportunity for people who can’t otherwise afford to make their own opportunities. Charters are about bringing public school options for those who can’t move to a great school district.”

Changing minds is likely to be an uphill battle. Some new lawmakers have already pushed back on charters, either during their campaigns or in the past.

Among them is Democratic socialist Julia Salazar, whose education campaign platform says she’ll support “maintaining the charter cap, making sure our school system remains publicly governed and controlled by all of us.”

A Queens newspaper described State Sen-elect Jessica Ramos, who unseated State Sen. Jose Peralta, as “adamantly opposed” to charter schools during a debate, when she called out the contributions Peralta received from pro-charter groups.

But charter advocates may still enjoy support from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has historically backed the sector. And in recent days, charter advocates were heartened by Mike Murphy, a spokesman for Senate Democrats, who told Newsday, “Senate Democrats care about providing a quality education for all New York’s children, including those attending charter schools.”

Wilson, the Ascend founder, pointed to his own schools as a part of what he considers a progressive model that might appeal to politicians wary of charters with reputations for harsh discipline policies. The schools are not co-located with other public schools (often a source of frustration for charter opponents). He emphasized Ascend’s liberal-arts curriculum and how it serves communities of color within lawmakers’ districts.

“When they see that, they will become believers,” Wilson said.

What does grassroots campaigning look like?

Andrew, the Democracy Prep founder, said the real key will be for charter schools to make personal connections between lawmakers and parents “that need to happen at barber shops and at church and at the bus stop.”

Parents, he said, will have to lead the charge. That means, even more so than in the past, that the charter sector must persuade families to get involved in reaching out to their lawmakers to have regular conversations about what they want in their neighborhoods.

“When I talk about grassroots organizing, I’m really talking about empowering families to make greater choices and have greater agency over their own civic engagement,” Andrew said. “It can’t be forced engagement; it has to be authentic daily conversations about what parents want and need in their child’s education.”

In the past, Families for Excellent Schools was known for its large-scale protests and big spending, such as a multi-million-dollar ad campaign that criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio for his opposition to charter school expansion.

In 2014, Families for Excellent Schools hosted an 11,000-person rally in Albany after de Blasio blocked plans for three Success Academy schools to open or expand. Success cancelled classes so that students and their families could attend the protest.

It’s not fair, according to one New York charter advocate, to say that charter supporters haven’t done any grassroots campaigning. However, that effort must now be “turbo-charged,” the advocate said.

We’re not just “about media buys and large scale protests,” Andrew said. “The way grassroots organizing is most effective is clear drum beats from constituents to their elected officials.”

“I think we have a lot of work to do to build up relationships with members of the Democratic Party, and you know, I would bet, if not 100 percent of charter parents, some number close to that are Democrats,” the advocate said. “And so I think it will be important this year those parents’ voices are heard, by their own legislators. And I think that will drive a lot of advocacy.”

Another New York charter proponent said of Democratic charter teachers and parents, “It was hard for the charter sector to back them fully in the way they are likely to do now, when our survival relied on Republicans.”

Now, Wilson said, effectively persuading lawmakers “is not about campaign donations and backroom deals” but more about getting them into schools.

David Bloomfield, a Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center professor of education, thinks campaign donations will still play a big role in advocacy efforts.

There is certainly a new dynamic in the statehouse, he said in an email, “but charters are just part of a macro-political deal that still needs to play out with grassroots campaigning and personal interactions only effective at the margins.”

As charter advocates figure out a plan for the future, the applications to open charter schools won’t stop, despite the small and finite number of open slots for them with no clarity about whether lawmakers will even consider raising the cap in the future.

Susie Miller Carello, executive director of the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, one of two entities that can approve new charter applications in the state, said she’s heard of interest in a potential 35 applications for New York City for the next year, more than four times the available openings.

“Now will they all end up coming in the door? Probably not,” Carello said about those that may apply. “But it sounds like we’re going to have a pretty healthy number.”


In most U.S. cities, neighborhoods have grown more integrated. Their schools haven’t.

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post
Sold signs can be seen on many of the homes in Stapleton on August 1, 2018, in Denver, Colorado.

Between 1990 and 2015, Seattle’s neighborhoods saw a notable decline in racial segregation.

It would make sense, then, to think that the city’s public schools had also become more integrated. Not so.

In fact, they were headed in the opposite direction. In 1990, only 3 percent of schools were intensely segregated — that is, at least 90 percent of students were nonwhite — but by 2015, that number had spiked to 17 percent.

That’s not entirely surprising. During that time, a high-profile Supreme Court case made it more difficult for Seattle to integrate its schools by race. But new research looking at America’s 100 largest cities shows that the diverging trends in Seattle — neighborhoods growing more diverse, as their schools grow more segregated — is not an anomaly.

The analysis finds that, between 1990 and 2015, 72 percent of U.S. cities saw their neighborhoods grow less racially segregated, by one measure. Sixty-two percent saw their schools grow more segregated over that same period.

“There is this incredibly striking trend,” said Ryan Coughlan, a professor at Guttman Community College, CUNY, who conducted the research. “It raises all kinds of alarm bells and questions as to what that’s about.”

Most cities did not see schools segregate as much as Seattle did. And 27 cities, like Durham, North Carolina and Memphis, Tennessee, saw both their schools and neighborhoods grow less segregated in concert over that 25-year period. But overall, the study finds that integrating neighborhoods didn’t predict integrating schools in those same cities.

The analysis has significant limits, particularly when looking at single cities. It uses one of several possible ways to measure segregation: the degree to which the racial breakdown of students in individual schools or neighborhoods mirror the demographics of the rest of the district or city. In most cases, charter schools are not included. That makes the data less useful in places like Detroit, where charters now enroll half the city’s students.

The big-picture trend matters, though. More integrated schools have long been shown to improve academic outcomes for low-income students and students of color. Living in a more integrated neighborhood has also been linked to long-run benefits for younger kids.

“Because of the connections between integration and educational opportunities, the dramatic increase in school segregation alongside the decrease in neighborhood segregation requires the immediate attention of school leaders, policymakers, and the public as a whole,” Coughlan wrote.

What’s behind those trends?

The analysis, published last month in the peer-reviewed Peabody Journal of Education, can’t say why that’s happening. The end of many legal desegregation orders during that time likely played a role. Coughlan also hypothesizes that the rapid increase in school choice, through charter schools and other means, had something to with it.

“These are 100 different urban areas with very different circumstances,” Coughlan said.

The paper’s starting point is 1990, before the first charter school law passed in the U.S. Since then, school choice has rapidly grown, through charters and other means.

In Seattle, though, charter schools are almost certainly not the cause of its increase in school segregation, since the city has very few.

Another city that saw a major spike in school segregation along with a modest decline in neighborhood segregation is Charlotte. Like Seattle, it’s seen a resegregation of schools in the wake of high-profile court cases.

Charlotte also has a number of charter schools; there and elsewhere in North Carolina, other research has found that charters have likely exacerbated segregation. (Coughlan’s Charlotte data does not include charter schools.) Nationally, research has shown that charters either exacerbate school segregation or have no effect on it.

“The broader literature at this point I think shows that charter schools do not integrate schools,” said Ann Owens, a sociologist at the University of Southern California who studies segregation.

Other research has shown that the existence of different school options can promote neighborhood integration (also described as gentrification). That could help explain Coughlan’s results, with a family’s ability to opt out of a neighborhood school encouraging their move to a neighborhood they wouldn’t otherwise have considered.

The disconnect between housing and schooling trends has important implications. For one, it means that divided neighborhoods shouldn’t be used as an excuse to do nothing about divided schools, said Tomas Monarrez, a researcher at the Urban Institute who has studied school boundaries.

“Neighborhood segregation is the result of a long, long history of discriminatory policies both on the part of private agents and the federal government,” he said. “School systems have gotten to ride that and say segregation’s not our fault.”

Instead, he argued, school leaders should be taking affirmative steps to integrate schools, and recognize that they may have to continually adjust their policies. “School attendance boundaries don’t have to replicate neighborhood segregation,” Monarrez said. “You can gerrymander school attendance boundaries to decrease it.”

City-by-city data

You can look up how residential and school segregation changed in your city from 1990 to 2015 below. Keep in mind that a city and its corresponding school district do not always overlap perfectly — the school data for Indianapolis, for example, includes just the Indianapolis Public Schools, the city’s central district but one of 11 districts in the city.

Segregation, here, means the degree to which the demographics of students in individual schools mirror the rest of the city’s public school students. This captures whether different groups of students are spread evenly across schools in a city, but it doesn’t say much about cities where virtually all students are students of color. Most segregation occurs between rather than within school districts.

Source: “Divergent Trends in Neighborhood and School Segregation in the Age of School Choice,” Peabody Journal of Education.