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By Jane Roberts - The Commercial Appeal -
The state of Tennessee will run three Memphis City Schools in Frayser next fall. Three more, mostly in North Memphis, will convert to or co-exist with charter schools as part of a strategic effort to concentrate on pockets of town where schools chronically under-perform.
Corning Elementary, Frayser Elementary and Westside Middle will open in the state Achievement School District, according to a late-afternoon announcement Monday at Ed Rice Community Center in the heart of Frayser.
At the same time, the charter KIPP Memphis will open a middle and high school inside Cypress School. Privately run Cornerstone will convert Lester School in Binghamton to a charter school and Gestalt Community Schools will open a middle school inside Gordon Elementary in North Memphis.
"I see what we are doing as community transformation work, making sure that Frayser continues along the lines many of you in this room are working on," Chris Barbic, ASD superintendent told a roomful of parents, school leaders and community activists in the event attended by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton.
"We see this as a collaboration, not a takeover. It's an opportunity to create a brand-new education system focused on the students in the bottom five percent," Barbic said.
Last year, only one in 10 students in the three Frayser schools met state benchmarks for proficiency. Statewide, four times as many students met the mark.
The statistics, Barbic said, mean it is likely a 5-year-old entering kindergarten in Frayser would "spend their entire public education in schools ranked in the bottom 5 percent."
The goal is to take the schools from the bottom 5 percent in Tennessee to the top 25 percent in the state in five years.
Frayser schools that meet the goal will return to the authority of the local school board in five years.
Until then, the per-pupil tax funding for education will follow the students to either the ASD or the charter companies converting the schools. The charter firms have also received about $1 million in federal funds to cover startup costs over the next 18 months or so.
The state department of education outlined its vision for the Achievement School District in its Race to the Top application in 2010.
The ASD is an independent school district comprised of the lowest 5 percent of schools. Of the 85 low-performers statewide, 69 are in Memphis.
New schools will be added to the ASD each year until the state is managing or co-managing 30-35 schools, some of them through charter organizations.
By working with the state, MCS Supt. Kriner Cash has been able to say which schools make sense for the state to run and which make sense for charters.
"Pairing Cypress and Gordon is a continuation of a theme Chris and I have consistently reinforced," he said. "To transform a high school, you must work with great focus and intentionality on the elementaries and middle (school) that feed it."
For the most part, the charters will add one grade at a time until they are running the entire school.
Cornerstone Preparatory Academy -- a private school based in Christ United Methodist Church on Poplar -- will take over grades K-3 in Lester, a troubled school off Tillman in Binghamton. Last spring, fewer than 10 percent of its students scored proficient or better in math.
In the fall of 2013, Cornerstone will add grades four and five.
The charters will serve all the children zoned to the school they are converting. They will contract with MCS for transportation, food service and other general services.
By concentrating resources in schools that feed into Frayser High, Barbic is hoping to improve test scores across the entire feeder pattern, and over time, increase the community's job skills and access to wealth, he said.
Teachers and staff interested in working under the state's lead in Frayser can apply for openings posted on tnasd.org. Employees who sign on to work in the state-managed schools will be "at will" employees, exempt from MCS collective bargaining agreements.
"We're looking for people willing to work a longer school day. We're looking for highly effective teachers with a track record," said Barbic, who spent the day Monday in Frayser talking about the changes with school staff.
"I think it went as well as can be expected," he said.
-- Jane Roberts: (901) 529-2512