A school board vote in Memphis to grow the city’s charter sector by another five schools in 2017 also set the stage for a battle as several other operators vowed to appeal to the state after their applications were denied Tuesday night.

Following recommendations from administrators for Shelby County Schools, the school board approved a charter for Crosstown High School, the high-profile project planned for Midtown Memphis in partnership with Christian Brothers University. Also approved were applications from Gateway University Schools of Applied Sciences Inc., Legacy Leadership Academy, Kaleidoscope Schools and Artesian Schools.

The board voted unanimously to deny applications from Green Dot Public Schools, Pathways in Education, and The LeFlore Foundation.

Leaders from Green Dot and LeFlore said later that they’ll appeal the board’s decision to the State Board of Education, while a spokeswoman for Pathways in Education said the operator will consider an appeal. Under state law, the denied operators have 10 days to file.

If they do, it will be the second time this year that charter operators in Memphis have taken their cases to the State Board for decisions made by Shelby County’s school board. In May, the State Board upheld the local board’s decision to close four Memphis charter schools this year, even as members rapped the Memphis district for its handling of the closures.

Under Tuesday’s school board vote, Shelby County Schools’ charter sector will grow to 52 schools — about one-fourth of all the district’s schools in Memphis. The board already approved two charter applications from the Memphis Business Academy in June.

The growth is necessary, according to Brad Leon, the district’s strategy and innovation chief, who has said the district needs to authorize high-quality options and close low-quality ones to drive up the quality of public education in Memphis.

Megan Quaile, executive director of Green Dot Public Schools Tennessee, and national CEO Marco Petruzzi listen to school board members.
Megan Quaile, executive director of Green Dot Public Schools Tennessee, and national CEO Marco Petruzzi listen to school board members.
PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Faith Kebede

During public comments before the board’s vote, Green Dot CEO Marco Petruzzi said the recommendation to deny its application — which was based on a low growth score from Green Dot’s Fairley High School in Memphis — was “unfounded.” He said Fairley’s test scores have outpaced those of some schools in Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone.

“We have 16 years of running high-performing charter schools,” said Petruzzi of the California-based operator. “It seems to me that there’s a different standard being used for Green Dot than the standards for iZone schools.”

Artesian Schools barely scraped by on a 5-4 vote after board member Stephanie Love asked that its application be considered separately. The other recommended charter schools were approved in a single vote, with only Love and Shante Avant voting against them.

Love cited concern about the proposed location in her district of Artesian Schools, which is partnering with Southwest Tennessee Community College in the Raleigh-Frayser community. She said the school could draw students away from two other schools, one operated by Shelby County Schools and the other by the state-run Achievement School District. She also had reservations about Artesian as an “early college” high school.

“We’re constantly hearing (that) our children are not prepared for college,” Love said. “I’m not saying our children aren’t smart, but based on standards set by the state of Tennessee, our children aren’t where they need to be.”

Ashley Smith, CEO and founder of Artesian Schools, said after the meeting that the high school will not be a neighborhood school and that she hopes it will draw students from across the city.

“We’re not trying to compete with the other high schools in the area,” Smith said.