Great Hearts’ State Appeal Hinges on Question of Diversity

Alan Coverstone, speaking against Great Hearts, worries that the charter school will not have a diverse student body.

An Arizona-based charter-school operator hoping to expand into Nashville appealed its case to the state Tuesday, after it was rejected by Metro last month. Officials sparred over whether the proposal from Great Hearts Academies will allow for enough student diversity.

Great Hearts’ proposal is a test of new state laws allowing privately run, publicly funded charters to serve kids who aren’t necessarily poor or zoned for failing schools.

Metro officials say the proposed schools would only be as diverse as the neighborhoods around them. They say that amounts to cherry-picking kids by neighborhood, because Great Hearts wouldn’t provide enough transportation for poor or minority kids from elsewhere.

At a public hearing with state officials, West End Parent Will Sanford complained Great Hearts was using slick public relations as a smokescreen.

“Great Hearts isn’t even here yet. They’ve already hired a PR mercenary, astro-turf specialist. They’ve sent out emails perpetuating the myth that there are only three good schools in Nashville – until Great Hearts gets here, of course.”

Meanwhile backers of Great Hearts – some with kids in tow and wearing red hearts – argued Metro’s rejection was groundless.

Great Hearts officials speak at Tuesday’s meeting.

Michael Chaney, a father of two middle schoolers in south Nashville who spoke at yesterday’s meeting, thinks Metro wasn’t fair in its rejection of Great Hearts.

“We didn’t hear any objective reasons – we heard the same thing about diversity for, I don’t know, 10, 15, 20 minutes. Never stopped, after that a vote. It was an arbitrary decision.”

Metro officials argued they were objective in their decision against the charter. One speaker noted Metro approved several others, saying its reasoning wasn’t made up, and quote “no one’s out to get Great Hearts.”

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