New Charter Schools Give New Options to North Nashvillians

Parents in North Nashville will have two new options for their children’s education beginning in 2013, continuing Metro Nashville’s move toward charter schools targeting at-risk students.

Purpose Prep Academy, which serves K-4 students, and a second KIPP Academy middle school are slated to open in 2013 after being approved on appeal to the Metro Nashville Board of Education this week.

Michael Stoxstill has sent two sons through KIPP Academy’s existing middle school in East Nashville, and he plans to send his daughter there next year.

“I am highly excited because now there are greater options available, especially for parents who don’t have the means or transportation to get their kids to KIPP,” said Stoxstill, who has pushed for a high school similar to KIPP because he doesn’t want his kids to lose ground before college.

“Those four years between junior high and college are a big step for children,” he said.

The only charter high school operating in North Nashville is LEAD Academy High. It opened in 2010 and is adding one grade a year until it becomes a full 9-12 high school in 2014.

The board also approved Purpose Prep Academy, a college-focused elementary school that will begin with 120 kindergartners in 2013 and top out at 300 students in six years.

His son is in day care now, but Samuel Goode said he wants to send him to Purpose Prep next year.

“I would much rather have my son in a charter school,” Goode said. “It seems they have a hands-on approach more than the traditional public schools.”

Purpose Prep went through the Tennessee Charter School Incubator, a privately financed nonprofit organization created by Mayor Karl Dean to assist potential operators in opening charter schools. In addition to Purpose Prep, two other incubator schools are approved to open in 2013: Intrepid College Prep in Antioch and Nashville Classical in East Nashville.

Charter schools, which in Tennessee are publicly financed but privately operated, have dominated the debate over improving public education. Gov. Bill Haslam has pushed for more of them, but the Metro school board has taken a more cautious approach.

Councilman Lonnell Matthews, whose district covers a wide swath of the Whites Creek school cluster, said he trusted the board’s decision but would wait to see if the new charters will narrow student achievement gaps.

“I hope they will give families more options,” he said. “It’s really based on who is in those classrooms.”

Results mixed

Areas north of Nashville have had mixed results with charters in the past. Global Academy, near Old Hickory Boulevard and Brick Church Pike, shut its doors in July 2010 with debts nearing half a million dollars. The building is now being leased by Drexel Preparatory Academy. In December, Drexel received an ultimatum from the school board after the K-4 charter school was discovered to have incomplete school lunch records and failed to provide English as a second language and special-education programs for some of its students.

KIPP will open only one new middle school for now, despite approval from the Metro school board Tuesday and the state Achievement School District earlier this month to open two.

The school board rejected KIPP’s initial application to open a second middle school, citing inconsistent academic results. But a preview of its 2011-12 school year test scores showed clear improvement, and the board voted 8-1 to approve a second middle school. Board member Mark North cast the dissenting vote.

“The board took a closer look at our results and liked what they saw,” said KIPP Executive Director Randy Dowell. “We appreciate their vote of confidence.”

The board denied Purpose Prep’s initial application because of concerns about facilities. In its amended application, Purpose Prep demonstrated at least two possible facilities. Officials haven’t yet said where those are.

Lagra Newman, who is founder and head of school at Purpose Prep, said her charter had “tremendous” support from the community. “We will do whatever it takes to ensure that every Purpose Prep scholar is successful,” she said.

The board rejected the amended applications of Great Hearts Academy, Excel Academy and Genesis Academy. Their operators may appeal to the state Board of Education.

Nate Rau contributed to this story. Contact Sarah Ruf at 615-259-8090 or

Purpose Prep