After transitioning from national to local leadership and conducting months of listening with staff, students, parents and community leaders, Aspire Memphis will soon reveal a new look, mission, and vision.
Aspire Memphis will unveil its new direction for its four Memphis schools at a community launch at Hanley Elementary on Friday, January 24, at 10:00 a.m. Staff members got a sneak peek of the relaunch earlier this month.
The new local charter organization retained the name Aspire Public Schools but spent months conducting community surveys, focus groups, and listening tours to for input on a new mission and vision. Their new approach emphasizes community and student choice.
Aspire Memphis Superintendent Nickalous Manning said that the community feedback was overwhelmingly clear.
“What we heard from each and every stakeholder is that there are multiple pathways on the journey to lifelong success,” said Manning. “We also heard overwhelmingly that the community must be more deeply involved in the work that we do.”
Mannings said that this new approach will influence curriculum design and course offerings. Students will have options that prepare them for four-year colleges, two-year colleges, or technical school.
Last January, Aspire Public Schools’ national board, based out of California, unanimously voted
to hand over control of its four Memphis schools and their 1,600 students to a newly created and locally-run organization by the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.
Nickalous Manning, Aspire Public Schools' executive director. (Aspire Public Schools)
Manning said he values the support from the national network but believes Aspire Memphis is better positioned to address the needs of its students and families with local leadership.
“We’re here to stay and we’re going to be stronger than ever,” said Manning. “We’re working alongside children and families. We’re working alongside the community and our teammates. And we’re working with a very clear mission and vision moving forward.”
Aspire Memphis currently serves the Hickory Hill, Orange Mound, and Raleigh communities.
Alexandria Rogers, a kindergarten teacher at Aspire Coleman, participated in the focus groups.
“We want to equip [students] with the ability to go to college and have that four year experience. But also if that’s not what they want to do, we’re okay with that. We’re going to push you to be the best you that you can be,” said Rogers.
Rogers is also excited about the new focus on community.
“I’m excited for families to see we’re invested in Raleigh. We’re invested in Orange Mound. We’re invested in Hickory Hill. We’re here and we love [our communities],” said Rogers.
Manning, a native of Orange Mound, said parents are equally excited to play a larger role in the decision-making process for the Aspire Memphis network.
“Our parents spoke loud and clear about wanting to have more ownership and more voice in the work that we do,” said Manning.
Manning invited parents like Genessia Boyd to share candid feedback during focus groups. Boyd said they created an open-door atmosphere.
“They were like ‘Okay, let’s get real. Let’s talk about the real.’ They weren’t just like ‘Oh, tell me what you think.’ They were like, ‘Tell me what you know’,” said Boyd.
She also believes that the network’s new focus on community will allow for more parents to get involved as partners.
“It takes a village and we have to get back to that,” said Boyd.
An Aspire Public Schools' student takes a break from his work to pose for a photo. (Aspire Public Schools)
The Aspire network was one of the first out-of-state charter groups to join the state-run Achievement School District in 2012.
Their first turnaround school, Aspire Hanley Middle School, opened in 2013. Three of its schools, Coleman K-8, Hanley Elementary School, and Hanley Middle School, are part of the state-run Achievement School District. Its fourth school, Aspire East Academy, is part of Shelby County Schools and opened in 2016.
Although the national board expressed concern
over slow academic growth, the network has seen some recent gains. Coleman K-8 and Hanley Elementary School, are no longer in the bottom 5% of schools, according to the state Department of Education.
The transition to local control will also allow the charter operator to address operating deficits, which topped $2 million
in 2018. Aspire will be able to save 5% of its revenue previously paid to the national network in California. Manning and his team have also designed and implemented a three-year plan to reach financial stability.
Catina Jennings, a 3rd Grade teacher at Aspire's Coleman K-8, also participated in the focus groups and hopes that the new changes will continue to spur academic growth.
Jennings is in her ninth year in education and has been with the network for five years.
She experienced some of the network’s growing pains and is excited that the new vision emphasizes joy as well as academic rigor in the classroom.
“There is a joy component [in the vision] I am excited to bring back into school,” said Jennings. “I remember as a kid being excited to go to school. I want to bring that back to what we’re doing. Yes, we’re serious about education, but we want students to have joy about learning.”
She also recognizes the significance of including novice and veteran teachers in the process.
“It’s a big deal for teachers to be involved in reimaging and starting something new. You feel valued as a stakeholder and partner,” said Jennings.
Queria Nunnley, principal at Coleman K-8, pushed the Aspire network to also focus its attention on keeping students first.
She said the changing political landscape of education can cause educators to be distracted from what really matters.
“Keep students at the center,” Nunnley said. “And make decisions based on students."