Great Hearts looks again to state for help - WKRN News 2

Great Hearts looks again to state for help

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -

For the second time this summer, Great Hearts Academies hopes the state takes action on its controversial application to open a charter school in west Nashville.

The Arizona-based charter fired off two blistering statements Wednesday against the Metro Nashville School Board and school officials after board members denied the application Tuesday night 5-4 vote.

The vote came despite the State Board of Education telling the Metro School Board in July that by law, it must approve the application after previously denying it.

A spokesperson for Great Hearts told Nashville's News 2 that the charter school operator is now "holding off" on its application. Later he stated, "We are hopeful that the state will take action so that, in the future, Great Hearts can reapply to a different, impartial charter authorizer."

The statement follows an earlier Great Hearts statement which, in part, said, "Multiple school board members and Metro Nashville Public Schools officials have repeatedly made untrue statements about Great Hearts' program, mission, charter application, and diversity plans for Nashville."

The statement continued saying, "the school board and senior MNPS officials could not be more clear that they oppose Tennessee's open enrollment charter law and will do anything to block it and Great Hearts, even to the point of disregarding facts and willfully violating state laws."

Wednesday night Metro school officials responded with a much shorter statement that said in full, "As we go forward, the district will learn from this experience.  It is important that we work collaboratively and set a clear vision and mutually understood expectations for the district and charter school operators to constructively work together for the benefit of Nashville's children."

Stronger words came from Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, who has been an ardent supporter of Great Hearts.

In a statement he said, "It is a sad day for the children of Nashville who would have benefited from the high quality education Great Hearts was ready to offer. I want Great Hearts and the rest of the quality charter operators across the country to know that I am proud to be the Mayor of a very welcoming, diverse and open city, despite what has happened here. Sadly, the ones who will pay for this are the children of Nashville.  They deserve better."

Speaking for the school board Tuesday night, Chair Cheryl Mayes responded to questions raised by some members that the charter would be "lily white" by saying, "I am not concerned about what anyone else says, I am only concerned about my opinions on it, and I voted against this proposal because of what I believe, and what I have heard from so many constituents."

The move by the board outraged some of the school parents in west Nashville who were considering sending their children to the Great Hearts charter that had hoped to build in the area before expanding to other areas of the city.

"I am pretty outraged by it," said Theo Morrison.

"I am proof that this won't just be a school for affluent white kids," said Morrison, who is African-American and grew up in south Nashville.

He did not mince words about the school board's actions by evoking a famous civil rights image from the 1960s.

"Governor George Wallace made it his obligation to stand in front of the school house doors in Alabama to block black children's access to education and that's exactly what our school board did," said Morrison, who thinks the board is denying a lot of children choice, while also violating state law.

State House Speaker Beth Harwell was asked about the Great Hearts issue while taping a segment for "This Week with Bob Mueller."

"I hope we can appeal to the state level and we will see Great Hearts here," she told Nashville's News 2.

Silent so far about the Great Hearts situation is the Tennessee Department of Education and State Board of Education.

Few doubt they are weighing their options and the new open charter school law that gives them the power to potentially withhold funds from Metro Nashville Public Schools, even though Governor Bill Haslam has previously said that would not be an option.

The following is the initial statement, in full, by Great Hearts:

Our charter application has been before the MNPS board four times. The MNPS Board's own charter review committee found that Great Hearts satisfied every single MNPS approval criteria and it unanimously recommended that the School Board approve Great Hearts. The school board has known for months that Great Heart's diversity and transportation plans for Nashville exceed what MNPS requires of its own open enrollment schools. Despite this, multiple school board members and MNPS officials have repeatedly made untrue statements about Great Hearts' program, mission, charter application, and diversity plans for Nashville. The school board and senior MNPS officials could not be more clear that they oppose Tennessee's open enrollment charter law and will do anything to block it and Great Hearts, even to the point of disregarding facts and willfully violating state laws. It is evident at this point that, with this hostile board as the charter authorizer, a successful school opening would be impossible for Great Hearts even if we were able to obtain a charter. Great Hearts may decide to apply for a charter in the future when Tennessee's laws and charter approval process more effectively provide for open enrollment, broad service to the community and impartial authorizers. We are grateful to the numerous Nashville families, public school advocates and state and local officials for asking us to come to Nashville and for their tremendous support. Once conditions improve, we are hopeful that all Nashville parents will have the option of choosing Great Hearts as another academically rigorous public school available to their children.

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