published Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

Proposed charter school in Chattanooga focuses on business, law

Poll
Does Chattanooga need another charter school?

A founder of the state's oldest and largest charter school wants to open a business- and law-themed charter school here.

Hamilton County Schools has received a charter application from Smart Schools Inc. to open a sixth- through 12th-grade school called the New Consortium of Law and Business. Smart Schools, a Memphis-based organization founded in 2009, operates two New Consortium schools in West Tennessee.

Tommie Henderson, Smart Schools' president and executive director, was a co-founder of the Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering, which opened as the state's first charter school in 2005, he said. That school now has about 750 students.

Local school district administrators are currently reviewing the 289-page application packet and are expected to make a recommendation on whether the Hamilton County Board of Education should approve the charter at a Nov. 17 meeting.

So far, no decision has been made.

"I'm not ready to say 'yea' or 'nay' yet," Assistant Superintendent Lee McDade said.

But Smart Schools Inc. has met resistance in two of Tennessee's largest school districts.

The group was twice denied an application to Shelby County Schools in the Memphis area, though that decision was later overturned by the state, which forced administrators to let New Consortium become the county school's first public charter school. It opened in downtown Bartlett in August.

Bartlett is the organization's second law and business school; it also operates one in downtown Memphis, which opened in August 2010.

On Nov. 2, the Knox County school board denied an application from the organization to start a New Consortium charter school there in August 2012. School district spokeswoman Melissa Copelan said it was the first time the organization had applied in Knox County.

Henderson said the group will reapply in Knox County after receiving feedback from the local board.

In its first year here, New Consortium plans to enroll 35 sixth-graders, according to its Hamilton County application. When it reaches capacity in six years, it expect to have 210 students in sixth through 12th grades, records show.

If granted approval, instruction at the New Consortium school would rely heavily on what it calls "master teachers" -- top-tier teachers who would keep records, set grade-level budgets and evaluate other teachers, among other duties, and who would be paid more than $90,000 annually, the application states. Each grade would have at least one master teacher.

Other teachers at the school would earn the same rate as comparable public school teachers in Hamilton County Schools.

Henderson said the business and law focus provide an education "unlike anything else in Tennessee." By combining two cornerstones of entrepreneurship -- understanding the law and understanding business -- New Consortium students will be prepared to compete in the global marketplace, he said.

"Tennessee is on the edge of being an international player," he said. "We are not preparing them to be able to take ownership of the reality that's coming forward."

That idea is echoed in the charter application.

"Our school is not a law school. Our school is not a business school," the application states. "Our school seeks to educate young people about the demands of the modern world for individuals who can seamlessly intertwine the skill sets of each of these considerably different career fields."

The school also will allow students to connect with others from across the state by using technology such as video chatting, Henderson said. Such networking will become increasingly important as the business world continues to change, he said.

"Tennessee and its communities have for so long been sheltered from each other," he said. "Our school hopes to create what we call a network effect, where students from different parts of the state will have the opportunity to connect with each other in a very meaningful way."

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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