5 Things Equity Advocates Should Know About… The October 2021 Tennessee Public Charter School Commission Meeting
1. The Commission unanimously approved a resolution to uphold the denial recommended by the Fayette County Public School Board for Academy of the Arts Charter High School. The Commission’s Executive Director, Tess Stovall, shared her report that outlined the review of Academy of the Arts Charter High School’s amended application, which concluded that the denial of the application by the Fayette County Public School Board was in the best interest of the students, community, and LEA. Stovall highlighted that the school leader demonstrated a clear passion for the school’s unique mission, but that there was insufficient evidence that the school could demonstrate success with their academic plan, enrollment, curriculum, staffing, facilities, and funding. The Commission agreed the applicant did not meet the standards of the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) scoring rubric. The Commission recommended that any future applications seeking approval must garner the support of special populations and English learner specialists, as it was noted there was not a substantial plan on how the school would support students with disabilities. The Commission encouraged the school to make improvements for future applications.
2. The Commission approved a resolution to overturn the Metro Nashville Public School board denial of Nashville Classical Charter’s application to open a second school in West Nashville. Tess Stovall presented a second report that outlined the Commission’s review of Nashville Classical II’s amended application, which determined that the application met or exceeded all of the standards outlined in the state’s scoring rubric and that the approval of the application is in the best interest of the students, community, and LEA. Despite many public and written testimonies from leaders and parents in opposition to the opening of Nashville Classical IIl in their community, Stovall emphasized that Nashville Classical is a proven charter operator and its existing K-8 school has strong academic performance and regularly outperforms the average scores of MNPS. She also noted that it is intentionally designed to serve a diverse population of students. She believed the network merited replication because of their strong governance and management model, financial capacity to oversee two charter schools, and existing community partnerships. Additionally, based on feedback from the MNPS review committee, the applicant changed their enrollment plan to estimate for 81 students and shifted to opening with just kindergarten students, which ensured the application met the state’s scoring rubric. The Commission voted 8-0 in approval, with one abstention.
3. The Commission’s Executive Director and the School Performance and Accountability Committee shared the TPCSC school operations update and LEA operations update. Rocketship Nashville #3 and Cornerstone Prep School will open in the 2022-2023 school year, and will be managed by the Commission. The Commission currently manages four schools (Bluff City High School, KIPP Antioch College Prep Elementary, KIPP Antioch College Prep Middle, and Nashville Collegiate Prep), which opened in the fall of 2021 and serve just under 2,000 students. Stovall discussed challenges related to the pandemic, including strains on schools’ capacity as they navigate quarantining, teacher shortages, and fully staffing their schools with licensed and endorsed teachers. Stovall cited one example of how a school is addressing these difficulties by partnering with Relay and utilizing the TDOE’s Grow Your Own grant, which provides innovative and no-cost pathways to the teaching profession. Additionally, she spotlighted that the TDOE relaunched the District Information Dashboard, making it possible for the Commission to share the following information weekly: student and staff COVID cases, number of isolated or quarantined students and staff, and operational changes or interventions being used (i.e. remote learning, waivers, etc.). Lastly, the Commission submitted their ESSER 3.0 spending plan, and is conducting annual site visits soon.
4. The Commission approved new rules related to the Achievement School District and Amendment Appeals, and is preparing for November’s application review process.
The Rules, Policy, and Governance Committee completed a final reading of the Achievement School District Authorization Permanent Rule and the Amendment Appeals Permanent Rule, which were both unanimously approved by the Commission. The changes to the rules included allowing discretion for ASD authorization if the operator failed to submit a letter of intent by the deadline of October 15th, providing the opportunity for interview participants to attend remotely in extraordinary circumstances, and clarifying that a public committee hearing should happen within 75 days after the receipt of an application. ASD applications to exit prior to the end of the original ten year agreement are due by November 15th, and the Commission is gearing up for the review process in November. Recommendations regarding the applications will be brought to the Commission’s next quarterly meeting on January 28th, 2022.
5. The TPCSC discussed their strategic plan for the year and outlined the Commission’s goals for the future, including the opportunity for external stakeholder feedback.
Chase Ingle, Director of External Affairs, gave a presentation about the Commission’s plans for the future. The Commission unanimously approved the proposed mission statement, which includes providing positive academic and life outcomes for students through high quality public charter schools with an emphasis on “rigorous oversight, transparency, and accountability”. Moreover, they agreed upon core values including putting students first, autonomy & accountability, transparency, community, and excellence. As a part of the strategic plan, the Commission is hoping to get input from commissioners, staff, and external stakeholders, including the General Assembly and non-profits. Furthermore, as the 2022 Legislative Session approaches, the TPSCS is working to connect with stakeholders regarding any legislation that may impact the Commission’s work.
- How does the TSCSC ensure that charter school operators are collaborating with community leaders and organizations in their application process, especially as they seek to support Black and Latino students, English learners, students with disabilities, and other students identified for priority status?
- How is the TPCSC working with new public charter school operators and community stakeholders to get input on its development and ensure there is an equitable application process for all families?
- What is the role of the Commission in overseeing the day to day operations of the schools they authorize, and how will they ensure parents and stakeholders understand the governance structure for the schools?
- How is the Commission engaging with the students, staff and parents of the schools they manage? Are there meaningful opportunities for feedback and a channel for communication and engagement?