Haslam visits ASD school in middle of grade-adding controversy
Commercial Appeal - 5/13/2017
May 12--Gov. Bill Haslam visited Aspire Coleman in Memphis Friday morning as the school grapples with finding a way to allow its current seventh-grade class to return for the eighth grade next year.
Haslam came to the school to visit a member of his teacher's cabinet, not to weigh in on the controversy that has 36 children at Aspire and roughly another 35 at Memphis Scholars Florida-Kansas stuck in limbo.
But the governor said he's aware of the issue and he's hopeful Shelby County Schools and the Achievement School District can find a way for the students to stay in their current schools through the end of middle school.
"I'm not a lawyer but I think maybe Shelby County Schools and the ASD, I think there is a solution to be found if both sides will show some flexibility," Haslam said. "At the end of the day, the good news is, both ASD and Shelby County Schools, they're partners, they both want what's best for kids, and I'm hopeful a solution can be found."
The state-run school district learned earlier this year, thanks to three opinions from the Tennessee Attorney General, that ASD schools don't have the legal authority to add grades that didn't exist before the ASD took over a school.
But plans were already in the works for an eighth grade at Coleman and the seventh and eighth grades at Florida-Kansas.
The ASD and Tennessee Department of Education have pushed SCS, which is often less of a partner with the ASD and more of a competitor, to allow the schools to add their grades. But SCS has pushed back, unable to cite a reason why they should have any say in what goes on in a school that isn't under their authority.
As the governor was touring the school, sitting in on classroom lessons and meeting with staff, Aspire Memphis Executive Director Allison Leslie was meeting with SCS Superintendent Dorsey Hopson.
"We're continuing the conversation, but have not resolved the issue," Leslie said after meeting with Hopson.
Hopson did not return a request for comment.
ASD Superintendent Malika Anderson said the state has provided SCS with "multiple paths" that would give them the legal authority to approve the added grades.
"It's up to them to say, 'We want to do this for students. We know we can, we want to do this for students and we're going to do it,'" Anderson said.
Options could include SCS approving and then overseeing the eighth grade at the school like it was a separate charter school, Anderson said. That would mean funding for those students would stay with SCS, and the district would be accountable for the success of that grade.
SCS could also contract operation of that extra grade back to the ASD, she said, and then the state district would be accountable for those students.
"We fully planned to serve the eighth-graders next year and hold ourselves responsible for their outcomes," Anderson said.
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