State Orders Shelby County Schools to Approve Charter School

State Orders Shelby County Schools to Approve Charter School

The State Board of Education is forcing SCS to approve its first charter school, a school the district rejected twice.
MEMPHIS, TN - The Tennessee Board of Education on Friday ordered the Shelby County School system to approve its first charter school.

The district rejected the charter school's application twice before, but the man behind the effort took his appeal to the state and won.

Tommie Henderson, executive director of Smart Schools, founded the first charter school in Tennessee, which also happened to be the first charter school in Memphis.  And now he's ready to open the first charter school in Shelby County, a district that is not partial to the charter school concept.

"We feel absolutely vindicated," Henderson tells  "Our application was villified and incorrectly described as an application that wasn't excellent.  This same curriculum has been approved by school boards in Memphis, Chattanooga and Nashville."

"Well clearly," says Shelby County School Board Chairman David Pickler, "we are disappointed the state decided to overturn the action of the Shelby County Board of Education. We looked at the application twice and felt it did not meet the standards of the Shelby County Board of Education."

When it rains, it pours for Chairman Pickler.  In the middle of protecting his district from a forced consolidation with Memphis City Schools, the state is now forcing county schools to approve a charter school it never wanted.

"We were concerned about the curriculum," says Pickler.  "We didn't see how it differed from what is already being offered in Shelby County Schools.  And the application didn't have any information about facilities for the school.  That was another problem for the board.  But we do not have the ability to appeal the state's ruling."

Henderson founded and served as principal of MASE, the Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering.  The state's inaugural charter school, its application approved by the Memphis School Board, opened in 2003, to great results.

"Our student achievement at MASE was extraordinary," says Henderson.  "Our school had a 100-percent graduation rate and an 86-percent college attendance rate.  And these were students who are the most vulnerable in the school district."

He's no longer a part of MASE.  But last fall, Henderson and Smart Schools opened another charter school in Memphis called "The New Consortium of Law and Business", focusing student studies on law and business.  The plan is to open an identical charter school in the county school system.

Pickler and SCS leaders have high expectations for the school.

"It will be the very first charter school in Shelby County," he says, "and we want to make sure it upholds our standard and our legacy of excellence."

With two successful charter schools already under his belt, Henderson, who's currently studying for his doctoral degree at Harvard University, expects only the best for school number three. 

"This is not our first rodeo," he says.  "We understand what it takes to create a charter school and to create a great charter school.  We have great hopes for the New Consortium."

The Consortium is scheduled to open this fall with 35 students.  The classes are paperless, each student will have their own laptop and 24-hour access to wireless internet.  Henderson says the school will cost $240,000 a year to operate.   He says charter schools provide innovative teaching methods and give parents the ultimate choice for their child's education.

Right now, Memphis has 22 charter schools, educating about 5,000 students. 

If city and county schools consolidate, Chairman Pickler says there's no guarantee all of those schools would remain open.
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