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    Veritas raising the curriculum grade

    Photo by ALAN HOWELL - Veritas charter school founder Tim Ware says all students, like these at Veritas, can excel with the right tools.

    by Michael Sheffield - Memphis Business Journal -

    Veritas College Preparatory Charter School is raising the standards and expectations of its students with the launch of a curriculum model that includes two periods of math and two periods of language arts daily.


    Tim Ware, founder of Veritas, says his idea for the school came after studying the best charters around the country. The school’s curriculum is directly based on state and ACT testing standards.


    The state revamped its standards for school curriculum and TCAP testing in 2009 and now requires students to take math up to Algebra II to graduate from high school. Ware says successful students must learn the theory of math as well as how to apply it logically, teachings inherent in Veritas’ curriculum.


    Originally from Indiana, Ware started his teaching career at Frayser Middle and High schools as part of a two-year Teach for America fellowship. He became an assistant principal during his second year at the school.
    After his fellowship ended, Ware was chosen to join Boston-based nonprofit Building Excellent Schools, which trains people interested in starting charter schools. The program also provides alumni with $250,000 startup grants for their schools.


    Ware’s research included studying the best teaching and administrative techniques in the nation’s charter schools. Veritas launched Downtown this fall with 85 sixth graders and will add one grade per year for the next two years.


    “We start with that and develop our units and lesson plans based on standards and not textbooks,” Ware says. “Everything the state says sixth graders need to learn, they learn.”


    The school launched with nearly $1 million in funding, including a three-year $600,000 charter schools program grant from the state of Tennessee, about $250,000 from the Walton Foundation and a $50,000 grant from the Hyde Family Foundations. Additional funding came from anonymous donors and from members of the school’s governing board.


    Charter schools are public schools that control their own curriculum, staffing and budget. The schools must be approved by the state and are required to meet state academic standards. In 2009, Tennessee increased the cap of charter schools to 90 from 35. Memphis, which has the most of any city in the state with 19, had its cap increased from 20 to 35 schools.


    Ware says he originally wanted to locate the school in the Orange Mound area of Memphis, but after two years of searching couldn’t find a facility to fit his needs. At the same time, Grizzlies Academy, a charter school that worked with high school students who were two years behind their grade level, was in the process of shutting down. The academy’s board members offered to lease its Downtown building on Jefferson to Veritas. The property is owned by Calvary Episcopal Church.


    Andy Cates, a former Grizzlies Academy board member, says the school became a victim of the economic climate.


    “We want (Veritas) to be there and we’re working through the next steps (to get a long-term deal) done,” Cates says. “Tim’s accomplishing what Grizzlies Academy set out to do.”


    Michael Whaley, founder of the K-5 Memphis College Prep Elementary School and another Teach for America and Building Excellent Schools alumnus, says he and Ware are working with educational methods that are proven to work.


    “We’re not experimenting with education,” Whaley says. “We’ve got an opportunity to turn it around.”
    Ware says students aren’t the only ones at Veritas who are expected to exceed expectations.


    “We believe all students can learn when they have the appropriate support, with no exception,” Ware says. “With that in place, there’s no reason why professional educators can’t move the needle forward on learning.”


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