NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A charter school had its appeal approved by a state commission after their application was denied by a local school board. That’s the case for Tennessee Nature Academy. Their application to open a school in the Antioch area was denied by the Metro Nashville Public Schools board of education and later approved by the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission.

“The commission is charged by state law to do what’s known as a de novo review, which basically means they look at it from scratch from the beginning. And so they looked at it with fresh eyes and they gave us high, very high marks in some areas and then and then had some questions about some other areas,” said Tennessee Nature Academy Director Jay Renfro. “So we showed up and presented our case. And they deliberated. And we were thrilled with the verdict.”

Tess Stovall, Executive Director of the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission, recommend that the Commission deny the Tennessee Nature Academy amended application. Charter schools are publicly funded schools that are privately operated.

“The sponsor put forth a strong academic model and plan aligned with its mission. There is clear community support for this unique model, and the sponsor has a robust plan to serve special populations,” Stovall wrote in her analysis. “While I commend the sponsor for their efforts in securing additional funding to replace the lack of the Charter School Program grant, there is no evidence of this additional funding within the amended application. The lack of documentation is concerning because the school would be fully reliant on these supplemental funds to remain financially stable within the pre-opening process.”

According to Renfro, the school is aiming to bring a nature-based learning model to Middle Tennessee.

“There’s a big push a district wide to bring more sustainability and nature based learning to schools,” he said. “And we’re excited to be able to show an example by doing that, by having Tennessee Nature Academy be located in the most diverse zip code in the state of Tennessee.”

However, some MNPS leaders believe this is an effort to defund and dismantle public education. According to the district, charters approved by the Charter Commission will be authorized by the charter commission, not MNPS, per Board policy.

News 2 received the following statement from MNPS Board of Education Chair Rachael Anne Elrod:

“It is increasingly clear that the Charter Commission sees its role as a rubber stamp for charter operators in Nashville whose applications were denied after thorough review by local experts and thoughtful consideration by our locally elected Board of Education. That reality was brought even more into focus by their decision to ignore the recommendations of their own Executive Director when they approved TN Nature Academy earlier today. The Charter Commission is just one mechanism by which the State of Tennessee is working to defund and dismantle public education, which started in Nashville and Memphis but is now spreading across the state.

Forcing MNPS to open and pay for unapproved charter schools continues to untenably increase our fixed costs and is a gross overreach that ignores the local public’s desires and the school board’s elected responsibilities. Concerns about the school aside, MNPS simply does not need these additional seats. It is financial malpractice for the State of Tennessee to expect local tax dollars to continue to pay for their desire to undermine and privatize our public schools.”

The school’s plan is to now open to 5th and 6th grade students next year. Leaders plan to start accepting applications so they can start hiring staff soon.

⏩ Read today’s top stories on wkrn.com

“We’ve had a few dozen teachers reach out and say they’re interested, and this is really what they are looking for in their education career,” said Renfro. “These years have been hard for teachers. And so we think an environment that emphasizes the health and happiness of the students and the teachers and the families is something that people are hungry for.”

He said more than 400 families have expressed interest in having their children attend the school, while TNA will have 162 slots for students.

“Contrary to what some believe, we aren’t just going to be out in the woods somewhere, we will have a tangible location, we have what’s known as an incubator site identified where we’ll be for our first couple of years, while a permanent campus, which we’ve also identified is being built,” said Renfro.

The state charter commission recently denied appeals for several charter schools, including Founders Classical Academy of Brentwood and Hendersonville.