NASHVILLE, Tenn. –On Thursday, the state announced LEAD's Public school network will gradually convert Metro's Brick Church Middle School into a charter.
Years of low test scores have placed Brick Church among the lowest performing schools in the state. Starting next school year, LEAD will have the challenge of turning the school around.
The conversion is already taking place at Cameron Middle School. Like Brick Church, students struggled academically. The statistics are not from a lack of trying, but Metro and State leaders stress the turnaround has to come faster.
At Cameron College Prep, the new school created as part of the conversion, every student is expected to graduate from high school and attend at a four year College or University. Located on the top floor of Cameron Middle School, for now, LEAD is taking over the fifth grade and will add an additional grade every year.
"Our fifth graders this year were the lowest performing fifth graders to come into any district school," Jeremy Kane, founder of LEAD Public Schools said.
To achieve the high expectations the fifth graders at Cameron spend an average of six more hours a week in class.
"They're really trying hard," Social Studies teacher Declan Tansey said. "They're thinking through questions. And they're showing they're committed to getting those questions correct."
The early success at Cameron and LEAD's other schools is what Dr. Register and state leaders hope to achieve at Brick Church Middle School.
"We're not blowing these schools up," Director of School Jesse Register said. "We're going to invest in leadership and people in these schools to build instructional capacity very quickly."
"I think some people felt grieved, maybe feeling a like this was an indictment of what they were doing, or had done in the past," former Cameron Middle School translator Ernest Rodriguez explained about some people's reaction to hearing that LEAD's conversion his school last year.
Faced with having to look for another job with Metro Nashville Public Schools or inevitably losing his job, Rodriguez chose to apply for a position with LEAD, an organization he knew little about.
"I actually feel energized everyday by doing this job," he said. "If you believe in our children and you believe what education can provide for our children, I don't see how you can look at this model and say I don't want to be involved in that."
Now his official title is Director of Culture at Cameron College Prep. It is just one indication about difference in the environment.
"We work long hours. Teachers get a little better pay than what they get at MNPS," Kane explained, "...but really the work is the tough work of coming in everyday and being consistent."
It's a culture Kane had to convince both staff and the community to buy into. Before Cameron College Prep, this type of district/charter school a partnership did not exist in Nashville. LEAD administrators hope the "sell" is even easier for those at Brick Church, now that a track record has been established.
"Obviously it's a tough day to hear that change is coming," Kane added.
They are committed to making a change over the long term, but know it will not be easy.