Smithson-Craighead Middle to Close, Charter Revoked

Smithson-Craighead students like 8th grader DyVonne Inyang attended the Tuesday night board meeting to show support for their charter school. Photo credit Blake Farmer/WPLN

Smithson-Craighead students like 8th grader DyVonne Inyang attended the Tuesday night board meeting to show support for their charter school. Photo credit Blake Farmer/WPLN

Parents and students from Nashville’s Smithson-Craighead Middle School packed a district board meeting Tuesday night, asking for one more chance. The board ultimately revoked the school’s charter after three years of abysmal scores.

The idea is for charters to perform better than the average school in the district. Far from it, Smithson-Craighead Middle – not to be confused with the elementary school – was one of the worst, ranking in the bottom five percent statewide.

The law is pretty clear, according to Alan Coverstone, who oversees charters for Metro. If a school doesn’t perform in three years, it will be closed, no questions asked, no appeal allowed. Still, board members talked about putting off a decision until after the school year.

Coverstone says charters know the rules, and they sign a contract. The decision has to be made as soon as possible.

“This is the way that the charter school deal works because if we wait until the end of the year, we are closing out and denying families the opportunity to be a part of other magnet schools or charter schools who will fill.”

Smithson-Craighead Middle School is now scheduled to close in late May. Coverstone says the district will hold a parent meeting next week to lay out options for families.

It’s just the second time the Metro board of education has revoked the charter of a privately-run, publicly financed school, and the eight-to-one vote sent tears streaming down the faces of parents and students. Ovetha Elliott says it is the perfect place for her family.

“My grandson, one of them lost his mom, she was murdered in January. That child was surrounded and supported with so much love. He’s not going to get that at a regular public school.”

Elliott says academically, Smithson-Craighead wasn’t given a chance. But district officials point to numbers. The percentage of students passing standardized math assessments was in the single digits for each of the last three years. And over that time, the school has gone through four different principals.

On Great Hearts

Tuesday night the school board extended an olive branch to another charter organization, asking the director of schools to open talks with Great Hearts Academies.

An application from the Arizona-based school was rejected by the board over diversity concerns, even after Great Hearts appealed to the state.

The district lost $3.4 million in state funding as a result. The board had contemplated legal action in response, even considering hiring an outside attorney. But on a voice vote last night, they rejected that path.

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