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By Jane Roberts - The Commercial Appeal -
About 10 parents showed up Wednesday to meet the state officials who will be running Frayser Elementary School in the fall.
The turnout appeared to be a letdown for organizers, based on the number of pizza boxes stacked in the back.
Ninety minutes later, parents said their questions had been answered as they headed out the doors to make up their minds about where they will send their children to school.
"I am interested because I want to see if those changes are going to be relevant," said Isaac Green, who has three children at Frayser.
Under state Race to the Top legislation passed in 2010, schools performing in the bottom five percent are eligible for the Achievement School District, a state-run district that will operate under its own rules, separate from the local school board.
The state is in charge of hiring teachers and principals, setting hours of operation and choosing curriculum.
This winter, parents in Frayser learned that three of their schools would be the first to come under state management: Frayser Elementary, Corning Elementary and Westside Middle.
Wednesday, they saw why.
"Of the fourteen schools in Frayser, 11 are operating in the bottom five percent," said ASD Supt. Chris Barbic.
"That's the highest concentration of any community in the whole state. The reason we are starting work here is if you look across the whole state, this is where the biggest need is."
To imagine how it could be different, he asked parents to start with the end goal.
"We are going to focus on college. Some of you will say not every kid will go to college. You may be right, but that is not our decision to make. ... We will educate every single one like they are going to go to college."
Statewide, 85 schools are performing in the bottom 5 percent. The majority, 69, are in Memphis.
Of them, 54 are elementary schools -- like Frayser -- where about 10 percent of the students are proficient in reading and math.
In Frayser and other parts of Memphis, it's possible for a student to graduate from high school and never attend a high-performing school, relegating them to the systemic, generational poverty that is Memphis' hard-to-crack heritage.
"I'm kinda excited to see how it is going to go, if it can help to get our kids off the bottom. I know Memphis is capable of doing better," said parent Niesha Jeffries.
She intends to enroll her children in Frayser Elementary for fall.
The ASD goal is to move the bottom 5 percent to the top 25 percent in five years.
Barbic ran Yes Prep charter schools in Houston for 13 years, building the culture on 100 percent high school graduation.
He told parents they can expect the same thing in Frayser.
"We believe it is all about great teaching and more of it," he said.
Only three teachers at Frayser have applied to teach in a revamped school in the fall. The rest, including principal Elaine Price, are waiting for other options.
"I've been principal here eight years. I can't see staying," Price said.
-- Jane Roberts: (901) 529-2512