Several of the nation’s highest-performing charter schools have applied to come to Memphis, including two California groups hoping to expand for the first time to other states.
Aspire Public Schools and Rocketship Education are among 12 firms hoping to either start new schools here or take over poor-performers in Memphis City Schools, as early as fall 2013.
“Tennessee has been leading for a long time in a lot of ways that matter — teacher evaluations, the teacher effectiveness work in Memphis and the Achievement School District,” said James Willcox, head of Aspire Public Schools.
“If you focus on the bottom five percent, most of that work is going to be in Memphis and that is the kind of work we do,” he said.
All 12 applicants are vying to work in the Achievement School District, a borderless, statewide district made up of the 85 lowest performing schools; 69 of them are in Memphis.
By law, the ASD superintendent has authority to contract with charter schools to improve student achievement. The goal is to move schools in the bottom 5 percent schools to the top 25 percent in five years.
The deadline for this round of charter applications was late Monday. Decision on the final choices will be announced June 1.
“We had a plan to do some national recruiting,” said Jeremy Jones, ASD spokesman. “We are really excited to have charter management organizations like Aspire and Rocketship interested in Tennessee. It’s an indication of the great work happening here. All eyes are on Tennessee.”
If all are approved, 50 new charters would open over five years.
The ASD is headed by Chris Barbic, a former Teach for America leader who founded Yes Prep in Houston, growing it to an 11-campus chain of charter schools that serves a majority of poor, urban students.
He came to Tennessee Aug. 1, the day the state began accepting applications for its first round of ASD charter partners. It received nine applicants and approved three: Gestalt Community Schools and Cornerstone Prep Academy, which will operate in Memphis, and Lead Academy, taking over a school in Nashville.
“I was surprised frankly to see Aspire heading to Tennessee,” said Todd Ziebarth, head of policy at the National Association for Public Charter Schools. “Up to now, they have been pretty clear they only want to open new charters in California. It’s a feather in Chris Barbic’s cap and others there to persuade them to come to Tennessee.”
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