The ASD Catapults Schools to the Top in Tennessee

The Achievement School District was created to “catapult the bottom 5% of schools in Tennessee straight to the top 25% in the state.” Like the Louisiana RSD and the Michigan EAA, the Tennessee ASD is the state turnaround district and it’s posting promising results.
The ASD seeks to “dramatically expand our students’ life and career options, engage parents and community members in new and exciting ways, and ensure a bright future for the state of Tennessee.”
Before taking on the ASD, Chris Barbic founded and grew YES Prep into one of the nation’s top school networks. He’s been leading the ASD for 24 months and has a good sense of the road forward.
The ASD runs 15 schools in Memphis and 1 in Nashville. 10 are charters serving 3,000 students. The ASD directly operates a 6 school feeder pattern serving 2,000 students. Barbic decided to run schools to demonstrate some operational chops–he wanted “skin in the game”–and he didn’t know what the response would be from new and recruited networks. The model is “the best from YES and leaning on blended strategies.”
In terms of recruitment efforts, “The response has been incredible,” said Barbic. As the only state authorizer, they have given preliminary approval to dozens of schools to be opened before 2020. Aspire has 2 schools and is projected to have 10 total. Rocketship is approved for up to 8 schools in Nashville and 8 schools in Memphis.
The ASD is the only statewide authorizer of charter schools, and they only focus on the bottom 5% of schools. They have the authority to take over buildings and replace low performing schools and serve as a neighborhood attendance zone school. ASD schools don’t change their attendance zones–serving the same kids as have always gone to their schools–and the only kids who can transfer into their schools are those who attend bottom 5% schools.
“We don’t need anymore ‘no excuses’ college prep charters,” said Barbic, “The new challenge is adding to the diversity of models–especially alternative and blended models.”
We seek to “dramatically expand our students’ life and career options, engage parents and community members in new and exciting ways, and ensure a bright future for the state of Tennessee.”
The ASD has “about 15 people thinking about all 16 schools” and 15 people that are in back office of the schools they run. They call themselves the “support team,” believing the word “central” applies only to the work of schools. By law, the state treats the ASD like a local education authority (LEA).
Like Washington D.C, charter schools will soon make up a significant percentage of Memphis schools.
Barbic benefits from having a supportive chief, Kevin Huffman, and governor, Bill Haslam. They have supported Common Core implementation and performance compensation. The next frontier is improved teacher preparation.

Tom - Speaking Engagements

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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