Four charter schools are seeking approval this spring from the Metro Nashville School Board to open new schools.
KIPP Nashville has submitted two applications – for a new elementary school and a new middle school – to the school board for consideration. Two other applications for the nature-focused Tennessee Nature Academy and SaberSTEM Academy, a proposed K-8 STEM school, were also submitted before the district’s Feb. 1 deadline.
KIPP, a national network of college-preparatory public charter schools, already operates seven schools in Nashville, enrolling about 2,800 K-12 students citywide, according to the organization’s website.
The group hopes to add KIPP Southeast Nashville College Prep Elementary School and KIPP Southeast Nashville College Prep Middle School to the roster, both offered for Antioch and Cane Ridge school groups.
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Both schools would be “designed to meet the needs of a growing population in Southeast Nashville,” according to the schools’ applications. “As the Southeast Nashville community continues to grow, the need for new public school seats has become increasingly evident. At KIPP Nashville, we have seen this through long waiting lists in our present schools of Antioch.”
The group hopes to build on its current school models in east and north Nashville.
The other two applications received by the district include the Tennessee Nature Academy and SaberSTEM Academy, a proposed STEM school for the Antioch region to be founded by a Michigan-based organization.
Salman Community Services would serve as the school’s nonprofit operator, depending on the application. It is operated by Education Management and Networks, a Michigan organization that operates charter schools in other states.
Tennessee law currently only permits nonprofit charter school operators. Charter schools are publicly funded but privately operated, separate from local school districts.
The applications come as Tennessee Governor Bill Lee pushes to open the doors to more charter schools, including those run by out-of-state organizations. Lee wants to partner with Hillsdale College, a conservative college in Michigan, on K-12 education initiatives. The college is working on opening several charter schools in Tennessee.
The Saber STEM Academy would provide students with a STEM-focused education from K-8, in addition to the opportunity “to immerse themselves in an optional Arabic language program specially tailored to the needs of the community based on the ‘January 2022 Parent Survey’, according to the school’s app. .
Until last fall, only four counties were home to charter schools — Davidson, Knox, Hamilton and Shelby — but the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission overturned a local decision and approved the opening of a new charter school. in Rutherford County as well.
The governor’s push comes as some parent groups are demanding more choice in how to raise their children and several counties are seeing an increase in charter applications this spring, including Williamson and Montgomery counties.
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Currently, charter schools must apply to the local school district to open and are reviewed by a rubric established by the state. If a local district denies a charter application, the school can appeal the decision to the state board.
But that process could also change this legislative session as lawmakers pass HB 2833/SB 2168, which would allow schools to skip the local approval process and go directly to the charter commission.
At least 112 charter schools currently operate in the state, primarily in Nashville and Memphis.
The Saber STEM Academy application indicates that the school would also offer materials in Spanish, Arabic and Somali to support the potential student population targeted by the school.
The move is also a nod to the bilingual model of the Aventura Community School. Aventura is slated to open this fall in southeast Nashville. The school was approved by the Nashville School Board, despite being turned down by other schools last year, due to its unique language offerings.
Saber STEM Academy hopes to open in time for the 2023-24 school year, according to its application. The school would rent space off of the Islamic Center of Tennessee in Antioch.
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The Tennessee Nature Academy hopes to eventually serve students in grades 5 through 12 and “grow up happy, healthy young adults who know the world, are passionate about the outdoors, and committed to doing a good job,” according to its app. .
Its founding board of directors would include Laurel Creech, assistant director, Division of Sustainability for Metro Nashville’s Corporate Services Department, and Roger Waynick, Jr., senior management consultant in the Office of Customer-Centred Government for the Department of Tennessee Finance and Administration, among others.
The Nashville School Board has 90 days to approve or deny applications.
The Nashville Classical Charter School II, which had to seek state approval, is also already set to open in West Nashville for the 2023-24 school year.
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Meghan Mangrum covers education for the USA TODAY Network – Tennessee. Contact her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.