Aspire Public Schools opening new school under SCS

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Aspire Public Schools is opening up a school under the Shelby County Schools umbrella this upcoming school year.

Parents might have seen the billboards or heard about the charter trying to turn around underperforming schools through the state-run Achievement School District.

It has been in Memphis for four years. During that time, it has run Hanley Elementary, Hanley Middle, and Coleman Elementary.

Its latest effort could be under the microscope, but leaders believe they are ready for the challenge.

"In all the cities where we have schools, we typically partner with the local school districts. So, it was our intention from the beginning to partner with the local district as well as the state," said Aspire Public Schools Area Superintendent Alli Leslie.

She has headed up the California-based, not-for-profit charter's efforts in the Memphis community.

She said on a recent assessment, her schools met reading and math targets set by the ASD.

She is hopeful Aspire East Academy, opening in Hickory Hill this fall, will prove to be as successful.

It is starting with kindergarteners and first graders, with the goal to grow to K-5. Depending on the need in the community, she said Aspire might look to add a middle school as well.

The campus, on Winchester near Riverdale, is currently under construction.

Aspire is converting a furniture store into a school building.

This first year, classes will be in portables.

"We'll be in portables on the campus, so that we can work with students and families to give input on the facility as we build it," Leslie said.

She said the new school is open enrollment, not a turnaround effort.

As a part of SCS, it will have to meet standards according to its charter agreement.

As part of the funding body for public schools, County Commissioner Willie Brooks hopes to see the school make the grade.

"The purpose of a charter school is to improve the quality of education for our young people," he told WREG.

State Rep. Antonio Parkinson has been critical of the ASD.

As with any charter, he hopes the school board is watchful.

"I hope that SCS, in their decision making, they consider performance and that there will be some oversight to make sure that our children are receiving the best education possible," he said.

"We're really excited about being able to bring a new school to the community and for it to be small, where students are well known," Leslie said.

She said Aspire is excited to be a part of Hickory Hill's diverse community.

About 70 students have enrolled so far. There will likely be room for about 120 students.

In addition to the new charter with SCS, Aspire is adding another school in its Hanley building.

The school board is the body that approves and revokes SCS charters.