Rocketship considers forced takeover “conversions” in Nashville

Rocketship’s board considers Nashville school takeovers through controversial Tennessee Achievement District.

Board documents released in November indicate that Rocketship is considering using the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD) to takeover public schools in Nashville Tennessee by August of 2015.  The ASD takes over “failing” schools from local school board control.  Schools that test in the bottom 5% of the state are labeled “failing”, and face the potential of being handed over to the ASD, abdicating local control.  Those “failing” schools tend to be predominately made up of low income minority students.  Most of the teachers and staff are fired in the takeover process, and often replaced with new teachers not reflective of the student population.  Board notes indicate that Rocketship is hoping to get local school board support, but it appears that they could move forward without community support through the ASD.  Rocketship’s leadership stated that their motivation to convert Nashville schools centers around accelerating growth by opening “big new schools … at 80% of full school capacity” and the fact that “conversions often come with a free or low-rent facility and are eligible for additional funding streams”.

Rocketship has never before attempted a conversion.  To date, all Rocketship schools are housed in newly built facilities, custom built by Rocketship from the ground up.  Conversions are significantly different; a student would be in their normal local public school in June of 2015, but return to a school in August of 2015 that had been converted into a Rocketship over the summer.  Conversions are not about school choice — the local school would be replaced by a Rocketship and students’ local district school would no longer exist.

Board documents state that Rocketship will work to “aggressively build relationships and identify parent ambassadors” to mitigate a “community [that] may be resistant and potentially obstructive”.  Rocketship has created division and animosity in the communities it serves; we’ve documented dozens of such stories.  In Nashville, Rocketship has been accused of signing up students against their wishes.  Rocketship’s board of directors, staff, and inexperienced  teachers are not representative of the minority communities they serve.  It seems very concerning that Rocketship’s non-representative leadership recognizes that the community will be “resistant” and “obstructive”, and hopes to mitigate with aggression.  Labeling communities of color as “resistant” and “obstructive” raises significant racial concerns. It is a pattern that we’ve observed over and over again in our primarily Latino San Jose community as Rocketship uses aggressive and divisive recruitment tactics in low income communities of color.  The possibility of the same techniques being used to accomplish forced minority school takeovers where parents have few options to opt out is extremely concerning.

San Jose Residents’ experiences on Rocketship’s recruitment.

Below are quotes from San Jose’s Washington Elementary parents regarding Rocketship’s aggressive recruitment.  Washington Elementary is 4 blocks from the first Rocketship, Rocketship Mateo Sheedy, and 4 blocks from Rocketship’s Alma Academy.  Will Rocketship’s aggressive and divisive stance towards an “obstructive” minority community spread to Tennessee?

I feel very sad that many of the parents from Rocketship charter schools verbally abuse and harass the parents from Washington Elementary School, saying that Washington students are academically below Rocketship students when I believe this is not true.  Graciela
There are a lot of programs at Washington Elementary for the students and parents. I have two kids in Washington; they really like it here. I used to have them in Rocketship, and it was too much for them. I am not saying that it is not a good school for some kids but it is not for others because they give too much homework and pressure for my oldest daughter. She used to cry because she would stay after school in order to get help to catch up with reading. After which she would return home and still have homework assigned from the teacher each day. I asked about why Rocketship has so much more required in terms of homework then Washington. Many told me that it was because Washington was not a good school, but I could not keep my children at Rocketship because it was too much pressure for my kids.  Lenica
The people who recruit children from that school [Rocketship] are found every where and they insist and insist again to move our children to that school.  Elizabeth
In my opinion we all deserve respect. I do not appreciate that there are people at Rocketship who accused the principal here at Washington of threatening me to stay at this school. I am not, and do not feel threatened by anyone to continue to have my children well-educated here. Each person should be able to have their children wherever they feel is best.  Beatriz
Rocketship’s  November 2014 board meeting notes discussing their aggressive conversion takeover strategy