School Choice & Charters

The Head of Tennessee’s State-Run Achievement School District to Resign

By Arianna Prothero — July 17, 2015 2 min read
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By Corey Mitchell. Cross-posted from the District Dossier blog.

Chris Barbic, who has led Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD) since its inception in 2012, will leave the job at the end of the year.

In a letter posted on the district’s website Friday morning, the superintendent writes that he is leaving because now is an ideal time for fresh leadership.

Barbic also acknowledged that the demands of his job have led to strains on his health and family. He suffered a heart attack last fall, the Tennessean reported.

“We have now built a strong foundation, and as we shift the ASD from a start-up to sustainable organization, it is a natural time for a leadership transition. I came here to answer Tennessee’s urgent call to improve Priority schools and to build a new kind of school district that would put the power back in the hands of parents and teachers,” Barbic wrote. “Now that this foundation is in place, it is the right time to think about passing the baton to a new leader who will take our work to the next level for the benefit of the students and families we serve.”

In spring 2012, Gov. Bill Haslam named Barbic to head the state’s special school district, created to turn around Tennessee’s bottom 5 percent of schools. The district initially oversaw four schools in Memphis and one in Chattanooga, turning over the reins of the majority to charter operators. The system will expand to nearly 30 schools this fall.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited an ASD campus in Memphis last fall, telling Barbic that “the culture you guys are creating is so incredibly powerful,” but the state-run district has had mixed success in improving academic achievement and cementing its future.

The latest setback in the ASD’s attempt to improve schooling in Memphis took place late this year when the high-performing Houston-based YES Prep Public Schools said it would leave Memphis altogether.

The move dealt a blow to Barbic, who founded YES Prep in 1998.

The Knowledge is Power Program, or KIPP and California-based Green Dot Public Schools have also scaled back plans to take over troubled schools in the ASD. Both groups remain active in Memphis.

Chalkbeat Tennessee also reports that the district faced a barrage of legislation designed to curb its growth last year from lawmakers unhappy about its tactics and sluggish academic results.

As his time on the job winds down, Barbic remains optimistic.

“I will be leaving confident that Tennessee’s schools are better off today than when we began, but convinced that the work ahead requires leadership committed to our shared goal: the very best education possible for every child,” Barbic wrote.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.

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