The Commercial Appeal

Herenton shrugs off denials, focused on startups

- By Jane Roberts

Former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton said a sellout crowd of families turned out this week at Parkway Gardens Presbyteri­an Church for an orientatio­n for three W.E.B. Du Bois charter schools he plans to open this fall in Hillcrest High.

But Herenton also must deal with two rounds of rejections from Metro Nashville and Shelby County Schools boards of education for a series of schools he planned to open in 2014.

“There’s always a beginning, and launching that beginning is critically important,” Herenton said. “We are focused on launching high-quality charter schools in Memphis. The national network will follow.”

Herenton envisioned Nashville would be the launch pad for his national brand of charters designed to help urban students overcome poverty, low expectatio­ns and absent role models. He got a good indication it wasn’t going to work last week when a study committee recommende­d the school board reject his applicatio­n for a unique charter serving only adolescent­s in Juvenile Court.

On Tuesday, Nashville rejected his proposal, and so did the unified school board, but for different reasons.

Nashville officials didn’t see a need for a charter for delinquent youth. Shelby County was forced to deny because Herenton applied to replicate charters in Memphis that have not opened.

That requires proof of success, including annual reports, three years of audited financial data and detailed reports, for instance, of how he improved a lowperform­ing charter.

“If replicatio­n requires previous implementa­tion, that was probably not our interpreta­tion or we didn’t read it,” Herenton said. “Had we known that, quite frankly, we would not have applied. We missed that in our looking at the informatio­n.”

The State Department of Education last fall rewrote the applicatio­n for organizati­ons that want to replicate an existing char- ter, said Rich Haglund, state director of charter schools.

“We notified people and did training sessions,” he said. “Essentiall­y, if you have an operating program and you want to make another one of those schools, tell us what is different; tell us about how the network of schools it going to work together.”

The committee in Nashville criticized Herenton last week for filing a sloppy applicatio­n, noting that his applicatio­n said food service would be provided by the Shelby County unified school district.

The committee also noted that Herenton presented no evidence that he had Nashville-based support partners.

“We acknowledg­e that we had not built a support base in Nashville because we were not assured that Nashville would be receptive to our charter school proposal,” Herenton said. “We didn’t want to engage in all that work if it was not legitimate.”

Herenton announced Tuesday night plans to take over two floors of Hillcrest in a lease agreement the school board will take up in late July. The site is important because it will house three of Herenton’s nine startup charter schools. The others will be located at Northside High, Southside Middle and a prefab building being built by Love Fellowship Ministries, 4475 S. Germantown Road.

Herenton projects each will serve 200 students.

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