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Great Hearts ends push for Nashville charter school

What's outrageous here is all the politics and pressure surrounding the board vote. How many times do they have to say "No"? As City Paper reporter earlier, in the Great Hearts case, Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman "wasn't merely an observer. He contemplated how the charter group should best proceed with its appeal." [You know, lawyer Kevin Huffman, former head of public affairs for Teach for America.]

Reader Comment: The time is ALWAYS right to do what is right! This is a victory for the people of Nashville who deserve to not have their tax dollars taken to create their own publicly funded private school. Good job former MNPS board and brand new board. I am proud to be a Nashvillian.

Reader Comment: This is all about union busting.... firing experienced teachers and replacing them with non-union TFA neophytes with little or no classroom experience.

Reader Comment: I'm really disappointed in the Mayor and the State (Huffman) for their intimations or outright threat of legal maneuvers. School reform is as complicated as healthcare reform and the Board is pioneering new ground int he form of charter schools. They're not hostile to charter schools, they're discerning, which is where we need them to be. They did their job well in advocating for MNPS students. That they were willing to break the law in order to do it tells me that we have the right advocates in these seats on the Board.

By Joey Garrison

One day after running into another round of resistance at the Metro school board, Great Hearts Academies announced late Wednesday it would no longer be pursuing authorization of its proposed Nashville charter school.

"It is evident at this point that, with this hostile board as the charter authorizer, a successful school opening would be impossible for Great Hearts even if we were able to obtain a charter," Great Hearts' leadership team said in a statement.

"Great Hearts may decide to apply for a charter in the future when Tennessee's laws and charter approval process more effectively provide for open enrollment, broad service to the community and impartial authorizers."

The announcement came less than 24 hours after the Metro school board voted 5-4 to deny the Phoenix-based charter organization's application for its proposed West Nashville charter school -- marking the fourth time the local board opted against its approval. The Tennessee State Board of Education had ordered Great Hearts' authorization, but Metro defied that order on two occasions.

Great Hearts officials, who thanked Nashville families along with state and Metro officials in its statement, didn't rule out the possibility of seeking entry into Nashville in the future.

"Once conditions improve, we are hopeful that all Nashville parents will have the option of choosing Great Hearts as another academically rigorous public school available to their children," the statement reads.

Wednesday's announcement — which few observers expected -- ends the months-long saga of Great Hearts, which arrived in Nashville as the first charter proposal here that would explicitly take advantage of the state's new open enrollment law. Previously, charter students had to qualify for free and reduced lunches. No longer beholden to the old law, the proposed West Nashville charter attracted an affluent audience.

Many Nashville parents welcomed Great Hearts as a remedy for expensive private schools and academic magnet schools with long waiting lists, but Metro school board members have continually questioned the group's commitment to diversity.

"Make no mistake: We are setting a precedent here tonight about what we will expect in our system and what we expect from our schools that will be far-reaching and that will affect many children, including my own," new board member Amy Frogge said Tuesday before voting against Great Hearts.

In its statement, Great Hearts' leadership team characterized the Metro school board as being untruthful about its diversity plan -- and a board that "will do anything to block it and Great Hearts, even to the point of disregarding facts and willfully violating state laws."

Following the news of Great Hearts̢۪ exit, its supporters expressed regrets.

"It's unfortunate that one of the most successful charter management organizations in the country has shown a deep interest in Nashville and found a hostile a climate for opening," said school board member Michael Hayes, a Great Hearts’ backer. “I hope that the board’s actions last night do not permanently dissuade other successful CMOs from coming to Nashville.

"The other piece that won't go away is our board openly violated state law, and there might be repercussions for that."

Great Hearts' retreat perhaps explains why the Tennessee Department of Education -- which has previously said Metro is violating state law for not approving the school -- refrained from commenting on the issue Wednesday.

"The department will not be offering a comment at this time," spokeswoman Kate Shellnutt said Wednesday morning, a statement that had held true by the end of the workday.

As The City Paper reported over the weekend, state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman had early on sought to help Great Hearts, even before the charter organization had appealed Metro's prior rejections to the state where it won an ordered authorization in August.

The Metro-state clash on Great Hearts could raise speculation on whether state legislative measures could be in store for the next session to avoid such charter battles over open enrollment in the future.

Following the group's announcement, a Great Hearts official from Phoenix spelled out its position to The City Paper: Great Hearts is no longer pursuing this particular charter application with Metro Nashville Public Schools.

But the group's statement added, "We are hopeful that the state will take action so that, in the future, Great Hearts can reapply to a different, impartial charter authorizer."

Some charter advocates have pushed for a statewide charter authorizer that would effectively negate the role of local boards such as Metro in the approval process. Huffman, however, in emails The City Paper made public, said such a measure, though worth discussing, would be a "long climb" in the state legislature next year.

The creation of statewide charter authorizer, however, would seemingly be one avenue for Great Hearts to open shop in Nashville in the future.

— Joey Garrison
The City Paper





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