After the gradual shift of the school systems in Memphis, the number of charter schools has begun to increase over the last two years.
Schools are formed from the collaboration of lower performing schools and are a part of the Achievement School District (ASD).
In 2013, charter school, Grad Academy, began its school with a ninth grade class with intentions of it becoming a full ninth through 12th grade by the 2016-2017 school year. Creation of this school and other charter schools created jobs for teachers and aspiring teachers.
“At Grad Academy Memphis, we are intentional in our mission to graduate scholars who are prepared to compete globally,” Grad Academy teacher Marlon Ross, said.
Charter schools are publicly funded, however, they are held at the same academic standards as other schools in Tennessee. Grad Academy and other charter schools are formed from surrounding schools or a group of schools that are placed in the bottom five percent of schools in Shelby County based off of academic performance.
“I honestly feel that I did not choose to become a teacher, teaching chose me. With every ounce of me, I believe you have to be called to teach.” —Marlon Ross
First year teacher, Marlon Ross, landed a job at Grad Academy where he teaches U.S. history and African-American history. After working for almost two years with the City of Memphis’ Ambassador’s Program, he saw many aspects of students who came from low income neighborhoods as well as some schools that were low performing.
Ross also graduated from Craigmont High School and received a professional studies degree with a major in History from The University of Memphis. He said that he had a desire to work with underprivileged students because he knows that those students need someone to believe in them and invest in them.
“I honestly feel that I did not choose to become a teacher, teaching chose me,” he said. “With every ounce of me, I believe you have to be called to teach.”
Ross said that it is important for him to keep his students interactive in class and outside of class. When he teaches his students, they use smart boards and all students are distributed laptops to make sure they are technologically advanced when they move on to college.
He also teaches his classes in a discussion based form to get the students active in the material he teaches because he learned that this is how his classes learned the material they have to know for end of the year testing.
Ross teaches according to the Tennessee state educational standards, but he also teaches them about their black culture.
“I teach this type of information so my students can begin to ask the question ‘why?’” Ross said. “A diverse education equips you with the skills to find the answers to questions and questions to answers.”
These lower performing schools also have their own independent board under the ASD. Even though these charter schools are held to the same academic standard as schools not taken over by the Achievement School District, their independent school board has control over the school’s budget, hiring and curriculum.
Courtney Hailey started working with Grad Academy during the summer of 2015 and grew relationships with her students. She had an opportunity to see why education is not a priority in some homes, which can collectively lead to lower performing schools. She also had the chance to see some of the struggles that kids deal with coming from underprivileged homes and neighborhoods.
“Each student had such an unfortunate story and background, but whenever I was around them I could never tell,” she said. “They always worked so hard with a plan in mind and they were always so happy.”
In 2014, the students at Grad Academy jumped two grade levels ahead of their scores compared to other average Freedom Schools.
Dr. Stephanie Hill, Grad Academy’s founder and director says that the results are outstanding for the school.
“Seeing outcomes like these is a testament to the tremendous work of our summer interns who took out a lot of time with students as well as the teachers,” she said.
Since the growth of the school has been on the rise, Grad Academy has been ranked the number one program for scholar growth in literacy in a research study of 60 participating Freedom Schools commissioned by the Children’s Defense Fund.