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    Guest column: Our kids can achieve greatness

    By Chris Barbic, Special to Viewpoint - The Commercial Appeal -

    It's an amazing time at the Achievement School District. We're preparing for the first day of school on Aug. 6 and we're incredibly excited about what this year will mean for the families of Memphis.

    This year, the Achievement School District will have six public schools, each with the freedom and supports to create amazing learning experiences for kids. We believe in putting the power, resources and decision making at the school level.

    As a district, we are both an "operator" — managing our neighborhood schools — and an "authorizer," selecting high-performing charter schools. This creates a portfolio of schools focused less on central management and more on people doing whatever it takes — based on what works best for them — to drive results.

    As a school operator, we're managing three schools this year — Westside Achievement Middle, Frayser Achievement Elementary and Corning Achievement Elementary. These are our neighborhood schools in Frayser, serving every student in their attendance zones.

    We've chosen three charter schools to be part of the ASD this year: Brick Church College Prep (LEAD Public Schools, Nashville), Gordon Science and Arts Academy (Gestalt Community Schools), and Cornerstone Prep Lester Campus (Cornerstone Prep). Next year, we hope to triple our number of schools to 18 across the state.

    Right now we're focused on getting ready for an outstanding school year. Between now and Aug. 6, we're pulling out all the stops to make sure our students and parents walk into bright, inspiring schools on day one. This week, we welcome a group of fantastic teachers for a month's worth of preparation, team building and community engagement.

    Over the next few weeks, we're reaching out to the parents of Frayser, inviting them to be part of the ASD. We're knocking on doors and holding community meetings. We're delivering a clear message: We want your child to take full advantage of an ASD education.

    What does an ASD education look like?

    1) Our schools will offer great teaching and more of it. We have a diverse group of world-class educators — most of whom are from Memphis, with extensive experience in the classroom — who will make the most of an 8 a.m-4:30 p.m. school day.

    2) Our students will learn without barriers, inspired by technology, college field lessons, and arts and athletic programs.

    3) Our students will be college and career bound. Our schools will be absolutely relentless when it comes to preparing every student to be college and career ready.

    This isn't just what we want — it's what every parent wants, and we're excited about building the shared commitment necessary to realize this vision.

    In a sense, we're still introducing ourselves. We're building relationships. We're inviting every parent in Frayser to visit with us, learn more about us at achievementschooldistrict.org, and attend our Registration Day on Tuesday, July 31.

    Many still don't know who we are and what we're about. The ASD was created by the state to catapult the bottom 5 percent of schools in Tennessee to the top 25 percent in five years. It's a bold effort built on the belief that every child can achieve at the highest of levels.

    At its heart, the ASD is really about a few simple truths: Every kid deserves a great school. Every parent deserves great choices. And great educators can accomplish amazing things for students and parents when given freedom, trust and support.

    We've intentionally focused these truths on Memphis, where 69 of the 85 schools ranked in the state's bottom 5 percent are located. Since we gathered with community members in February to announce our schools, we've been working closely with Memphis parents and community leaders on a collective effort to prove what's possible. And our sense of urgency is particularly clear in Frayser, where 11 out of 14 schools are ranked in the bottom 5 percent.

    These aren't just "numbers." These are lives and futures. This translates into devastating effect for the children of Frayser. If nothing changes today, nearly every 5-year-old in Frayser is almost certain to go from childhood to adulthood — an entire Pre-K to 12th grade experience — in schools ranked in the bottom 5 percent of the state.

    We know it doesn't have to be this way. Let's come together to create a reality where the only certainty is 12 years of great schools for every student. Our kids are as capable as any in the country!

    They can — and will — achieve greatness when we believe in them, hold them to high expectations and inspire them with amazing teaching. Achievement begins Aug. 6.