One of the pioneering charter school networks in Nashville has lost a bit of confidence from district administrators. The Metro Schools central office is recommending denial of two separate applications for new schools from LEAD.
Parents of current LEAD students — wearing matching green t-shirts — packed the most recent school board meeting to advocate for expansion. Lakeith Washam has a child at Neely's Bend middle, where LEAD took over a struggling school on behalf of state regulators.
"My daughter isn't just learning how to memorize facts and information — she's learning to think for herself," he said.
But review committees for the district aren't overly impressed with LEAD's current schools. They describe having "grave concern" about a citation for non-compliance with students who have disabilities. And in LEAD high school's four graduating classes, just 16 of 41 students with disabilities finished.
"The review team has serious questions concerning the rapid growth of this network and its capacity to meet the needs of all learners," the report states.
More broadly, the review committee says LEAD's high school has the highest attrition rate in the district at 40 percent.
LEAD is asking to open another high school in North Nashville as well as a K-8 school southeast of town, where a big portion of the city's immigrants live. The district reviewers said they were concerned, given LEAD has only had one English Language Learner graduate.
In a written statement, LEAD officials say they are disappointed.
"We believe we submitted quality applications that reflect LEAD's strong academic program, a program that has produced three top 5% Reward Schools and four straight senior classes with 100 percent acceptance to college. We are proud of our work in Nashville over the last 10 years, including partnerships with MNPS and other organizations. We will continue our review of the reports and will weigh our options pending the outcome of Tuesday night's Board of Education vote."
The Metro school board still has to vote but is unlikely to ignore the district's review committee. If turned down, LEAD could appeal to the state board of education, which is allowed to oversee schools itself and has already authorized two KIPP schools to begin opening in 2019.