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    California charter school management firm to take over two Memphis public schools

    Michael Sheffield - Memphis Business Journal -

    After opening and running 34 successful charter schools in California, Aspire Public Schools will get a crack at two schools in the Tennessee Achievement School District beginning in 2013.
    The Achievement School District consists of schools that rank in the lowest 5 percent, in terms of academic achievement, in the state. The state can either restructure the leadership of a school in that district or convert it into a charter school.
    Of the 83 schools in the Achievement School District, 69 of them are in Memphis, six are in Davidson County, six are in Hamilton County, and Hardeman and Knox counties each have one. (To view a complete list of Achievement School District schools, go to http://tn.gov/education/accountability/)
    Aspire is one of four charter school management organizations — and the only one based outside Memphis — that will be selected to run the schools. The other three are KIPP Memphis, Gestalt Community Schools and Cornerstone Preparatory Schools. Aspire expects to run 10 schools in Memphis in the next five years, primarily focusing on kindergarten through eighth grade.
    The state will determine which organization will run which schools by December. The state already runs Frayser Elementary, Corning Elementary and Westside Middle schools in Memphis.
    As Aspire takes over certain low-performing schools, 2013 will also be the first year of the unified Memphis City and Shelby County Schools district, and possibly the inaugural year for new municipal school districts in Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Millington, Arlington and Lakeland.
    “We’re just focused on the kids,” says Nickalous Manning, community outreach and partnerships manager for Aspire. “We’re looking at the people who are already doing the work in Memphis and learning from them.”
    Manning is familiar with the Achievement School District, having served as principal for Lanier Middle School in Whitehaven, which was on the list before he was appointed, but was no longer on the list when he left to join Aspire.
    Memphis will be Aspire’s first set of schools to manage outside California, where it runs schools located in high-poverty areas. Those schools have about 12,000 students, and Manning says every one of their high school graduates have been accepted to college.
    Aspire has received funding through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s teacher effectiveness program and typically has a startup cost ranging from $1 million to $1.5 million per school.
    Jamal McCall, executive director of KIPP Memphis, says the Achievement School District is central to KIPP’s plan to grow to 10 charter schools in Memphis by 2016. KIPP anticipates six of those schools will be Achievement schools.
    McCall says charter organizations already face challenges when launching new schools, but there is an extra focus with Achievement schools. KIPP will gradually phase in grades at schools it is working with, while Aspire will take over the entire school at once.
    “Your brand is definitely on the line when you’re doing a turnaround,” McCall says. “But it’s something everyone is committed to. Aspire has a long history of proving themselves with students.”
    Aspire Public Schools Charter school management organization Executive director, Memphis region: Allison Leslie Address: 516 Tennessee St., Suite 406 Phone: (901) 205-9443 Website: www.aspirepublicschools.org