ELSEWHERE ON THE WEB
Achievement School District-eligible schools in Hamilton County
• Brainerd High
• Howard School of Academics and Technology
• Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy (public charter)
• Dalewood Middle
• Orchard Knob Elementary
• Orchard Knob Middle
• Woodmore Elementary
Source: Tennessee Achievement School District
Two organizations have expressed interest in opening Hamilton County charter schools in the fall of 2013 under the state's Achievement School District.
Applicants include Exalt Education, which operates charter schools in Arkansas and Oregon, and GRAD Academy, an initiative of Project GRAD USA, a nonprofit organization that works with public school districts across the nation.
Created in 2010, Tennessee's Achievement School District is one of the state's largest efforts to turn around faltering schools. State legislation allows the ASD to co-manage, transform into charters or directly manage its schools, which are selected from the state's lowest performing 5 percent of schools.
The state's list of the bottom 85 schools includes seven in Hamilton County.
The district's mission is to improve the weakest schools by focusing on only a few at a time. ASD officials see charter schools as one way of providing students a ticket out of some of the worst schools.
Howard School of Academics and Technology is in the ASD with four Memphis schools, though it will transition out next school year, said charter school portfolio director Margo Roen for ASD. If a charter were to open in Chattanooga, it would have to serve students from the seven ASD-eligible schools here, she said.
Charters provide more options than existing zoned schools, Roen said, and can offer more specialized or individualized instruction.
"It's all about giving students and families more choice," she said. "It's extremely tailored and designed to serve the students."
ASD charters don't need the approval of local school boards. They can start as a new school, incrementally take over an existing school or completely assume responsibility for an existing school.
Exalt Education's Arkansas school, the Little Rock Preparatory Academy, has two teachers in every elementary classroom, a longer school year and a longer school day, with students arriving at 7:30 a.m. and going home at 4:30 or 5 p.m.
Freddie Scott, the group's director of regional development, said potential Chattanooga and Memphis schools would use similar strategies.
"We have a model we feel works," he said.
He said the group's interest in serving underserved and low-income populations sparked interest in Chattanooga.
"From an educational standpoint, much like it is across the country in urban areas, we saw a huge achievement gap in Chattanooga," he said.
Project GRAD - Graduation Really Achieves Dreams - provides help to nearly 150,000 low-income students in 22 school districts across the country and Pennsylvania. The education reform model puts an emphasis on high school graduation and college completion.
Roen said Project GRAD's application in Chattanooga is its first foray into operating its own schools.
Officials with Project GRAD could not be reached for comment Wednesday.