Main Street Journal: Online Exclusive: ASD Blog 01: Building a System of Top-Performing Schools

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ASD Blog 01: Building a System of Top-Performing Schools
By: Jeremy Jones

Achievement School District begins work to build a system of top performing schools

It is time in Tennessee. One can rarely turn on the news or open the paper without seeing movement, mostly forward, in education across our state. Nowhere is this movement more important than in Memphis, where 69 of the 85 lowest-performing 5 percent of schools are. In fact, some K-12 feeder patterns in Memphis have a majority of their schools performing in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state. For instance, of the 14 schools in the Trezvant/Frayser High Schools feeder, 11 of the schools fall in the bottom 5 percent. This alarming statistic becomes heartbreaking when you add context to the numbers. Unless we do something quickly, thousands of five year old babies in kindergarten this year will have no other option but to attend the state’s lowest performing middle and high schools as they grow up.

Tennessee is working tirelessly to ensure that these students have a chance at a great education. First to the Top legislation created the Achievement School District, the statewide school district that will create a system of schools that perform among the best in the state, for students either currently attending or zoned to a bottom 5 percent school. We can accomplish this by addressing low-performing schools in two dimensions. First, the Achievement School District will attract some of our country’s top school operators to the state, positioning Tennessee to be a premier location to run high-performing schools. On the other dimension, the Achievement School District will create proof points by operating a set of schools called the Achievement Schools. These schools will prove what is possible in public education, proving that students from all backgrounds and neighborhoods can be academically successful.

Next year, the Achievement School District will manage 6 schools in the portfolio, three will be operated by excellent charter schools and three will be managed by the Achievement School District. Gestalt Public Schools and Cornerstone Prep will expand operations in Memphis. LEAD Public Schools will grow to serve more students in Nashville. Additionally, Frayser Elementary, Corning Elementary and Westside Middle School will begin transformation into top 25 percent schools and will be run by the Achievement School District.

While this work will no doubt be challenging, the prospects for increasing the options for families are promising. Most recently, 13 outstanding school operators applied with the Achievement School District to open schools in the 2013-2014 school year. Among them are Gestalt Community Schools, which currently runs Tennessee’s top-performing charter school, Power Center Academy. Additionally, California’s high-performing charter school network, Aspire Public Schools, has submitted an application to provide students in Memphis a transformational education option.

Along with sourcing and screening top charter networks that will provide increased options for students in Memphis, the Achievement School District is laying a strong foundation to immediately impact student achievement in the Frayser community this August. The search for an outstanding regional superintendent who would manage the daily operations of the Achievement Schools is narrowing to a few excellent candidates. Potential principals are being recruited and hired and the Achievement School District is recruiting and hiring Memphis’s most effective educators to join our team. We have held parent meetings in our schools and will soon be walking through our neighborhoods ensuring that students and parents are well informed of the changes and that they get re-enrolled for next school year.

We have plenty of work to do before school begins in August, and while the work is trying and challenging, it is necessary and not impossible. It is time to seize the opportunity that we have been given for students in Tennessee. Political alignment is paving the road forward and the eyes of the nation are on our state to learn what is working. The stakes are high and the consequences for maintaining the status quo are devastating. By creating a system of schools that perform among the top 25 percent in the state, the Achievement School District ensures that thousands of Memphis students have access to educations that can change the options they have in life and increase the future prosperity of Tennessee.

(Jeremy Jones is the Communications Director for the Achievement School District. After teaching middle school math for several years, Jeremy built the recruitment and selection team for the YES Prep Public Schools in Houston, where is managed the hiring of more than 500 teachers in three years. Most recently, Jeremy worked as an Assistant Principal for Rocketship Education in San Jose, California. He joined the ASD in January 2012. Stay up to date with news from the Achievement School District. We are on Facebook and Twitter and blog daily at


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