Charlotte-Mecklenburg Superintendent Heath Morrison often talks about charter schools authorized by school districts, an arrangement that isn't allowed in North Carolina. I recently got a chance to see that model in action at Cameron College Prep, a charter authorized by Metro Nashville Public Schools to take over a failing district school.
The tour was part of the recent Education Writers Association national seminar, and it gave us a chance to see something I hadn't heard of before: A charter school with an attendance zone, and one that's being phased in as the traditional public school phases out.
|Cameron College Prep|
Some background: Cameron began life as an all-black high school in south Nashville in the 1930s. In recent decades the neighborhood and the school changed. Cameron Middle School (that's grades 5-8 in Nashville) had an international population and a history of low academic performance when the district's Office of Innovation asked for takeover proposals in 2010. The district chose the plan presented by LEAD Academy, a charter school authorized by MNPS.
Charter leaders had a year to get to know the community and try to build support for the new approach, which involves a heavy emphasis on getting all student ready for college. College banners and motivational slogans line the halls (a common approach with college-prep charters I've seen).
The original LEAD school, which is also a middle school, took students by application, as most charters do. Because of the unique partnership with the school district, students who live in the Cameron zone automatically go to the charter school unless they apply for another district or charter option. In other words, it's a charter neighborhood school.
The school and its relationship with the district is still evolving. LEAD now has six schools in Nashville, including one that's part of the Tennessee Achievement School District, which was created to take over the state's lowest-performing schools and come up with new strategies for them.
Cameron College Prep has "done OK" so far, MNPS school board member Will Pinkston said during a separate session on authorizing charter schools (see an 8-minute video of that panel here).
"They're not knocking it out of the park," Pinkston said. "They're good people trying hard, but it's not outperforming other charters or district schools."
Pinkston and MMPS spokesman Joe Bass steered me to this school rating chart, which also strikes me as something that CMS and/or North Carolina might want to look at. It provides an easy-to-scan comparison of test results (growth and proficiency) and student and teacher survey results for Nashville district and charter schools. It's not as simplistic as the letter grades North Carolina plans to assign all schools, but easier to use as a comparison point than the state's detailed school report cards.
Morrison has talked about creating something along these lines for CMS since his arrival two years ago, but with the data delays and glitches created by the conversion to PowerSchool, nothing has appeared yet. Presumably, anything created by CMS would not include charter schools because they do not report to or have any formal relationship with the district.