Kids’ Futures Shouldn’t Be Dictated By Political Agendas
by Will Hill, Rocketship Tennessee Executive Director
On January 26th, the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission voted unanimously in support of our charter renewal appeal for Rocketship Nashville Northeast. This means our school is approved to operate for another 10 years!
We are grateful that the Commission staff conducted a fair and thorough appeal process. In the executive director’s recommendation report to the Commission members, Rocketship Nashville NE received high marks (meets or exceeds standards) in all four evaluation categories: academics, finance, operations, and future planning. The executive director also noted that we had “one of the strongest showings of public support” she has seen in an appeal process with over 300 written and spoken comments of support.
The appeal process validated our concerns with the renewal process conducted by Metro Nashville Public Schools, which ranked us as only “partially meets” standards in all four categories. The Commission staff concurred with our complaint that the district’s Charter School Office violated state policy by not allowing us to correct the record or provide additional information before presenting their recommendation report to the School Board.
State policy is also clear that renewal decisions should be based on “thorough analyses of a comprehensive body of objective evidence.” Rocketship Nashville NE has received an overall TVAAS rating of Level 4 or 5 every year there has been TNReady growth data available. This track record is unmatched by any other school in the Maplewood cluster. From an achievement standpoint, Rocketship Nashville NE has consistently been one of the highest-performing public schools in the Maplewood Cluster. Notably, our school was designated a “Reward School” – the state’s highest honor – in the fall of 2019. That same year, the zoned MNPS school in the neighborhood was placed on the state’s Priority School List.
The information presented to and considered by the MNPS School Board did not reflect this entire 10-year track record. This is why the state appeal process exists. While School Board members are quick to criticize the appeal process as “state overreach” or undermining their authority as elected officials, their decisions would not be overturned if they were based on merit rather than politics.
During the meeting, Commission members echoed these concerns in their discussion, placing ultimate responsibility for an unfair process with the local School Board. One Commission member said the School Board “based their decision on lack of facts and lack of substance,” noting “it looks like targeted punitive action.” These were affirming words for our families and staff to hear, who have been facing the anxiety of uncertainty for a school they love since late November.
Based on the state’s quality authorizing standards, a renewal decision should not come as a surprise. As we look forward to the renewal process for our Rocketship United campus this coming year, we hope there will be lessons learned to ensure fair treatment for our families who too often face social systems and political decisions stacked against them.
Published on January 26, 2024