By Danielle Ray
(Originally Posted in the Murfreesboro Post)
The Rutherford County Board of Education has approved the application of one charter school and denied another.
At its July 18 meeting, the board voted 5-2 to approve Empower Academy, a K-8 tuition-free public charter school, and voted 6-1 to deny American Classical Academy.
Tammy Sharp was the only board member who voted in favor of the American Classical Academy, which has ties to Hillsdale College, according to Dr. Kelly Chastain, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.
The Michigan-based Hillsdale’s president, Larry Arnn, reportedly made derogatory comments about teachers at a Hillsdale reception in Williamson County this month. Tiffany Johnson, chairwoman of the board, called Arnn’s comments egregious at the July 18 meeting.
Board member Coy Young said he had other reasons for voting against charter schools.
“This needs to be a marriage between what the charter schools want to propose and … what the need is, and I don’t think we’re on the same page when it comes to that,” Young said.
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Board member Jim Estes took it a step further.
“I feel like we’ve had charter schools and vouchers pushed down our throat without any say so,” Estes said.
The RCS charter school review committee’s report said American Classical Education “Meets or Exceeds” the standard for its financial plan and capacity, but only “Partially Meets” the standard for Academic Plan Design and Capacity.
Board Vice-Chair Shelia Bratton, a member of the review committee, voted against American Classical Academy but in favor of Springs Empower Academy.
“I feel like if there is something that can be offered to our children that cannot be offered in a public school … then we need to try to look into it,” Bratton said.
Board member Claire Maxwell echoed Bratton.
“I am not anti-charter schools,” she said. “I believe in school choice. I also know we’re way behind in building schools, and charter schools are one way that we can get our county school system the classroom spaces due to severe overcrowding.”
Empower Academy, owned by Springs Public Schools, will be located in the Smyrna/La Vergne area. With plans to open in fall 2023, the school aims to enroll 150 students in its first year and grow to serve 800 students over time, according to a news release from the school.
“I have great things to say about the county staff, and I definitely agree with their recommendation for approval,” said Jared McLeod, executive director of Springs Empower Academy. “I look forward to a great future here serving the students of Rutherford County.”