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California Charter School Operator Looks to Tennessee

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Aspire Public Schools, a charter school operator that has won praise for its academic performance, is for the first time looking to expand beyond California—and into the fast-changing school landscape of Tennessee.

The nonprofit organization, which currently operates 34 schools in six cities in California, announced today that it is submitting a request to open two schools in Memphis, as part of the state's Achievement School District.

Aspire focuses on serving students in impoverished communities. It would seek to open the two new Tennessee schools in the fall of 2013.

The charter operator has produced relatively strong gains in student achievement, according to recent research by the Center on Reinventing Public Education and Mathematica Policy Research. Those researchers found that Aspire, along with other high-performing charter networks, placed a heavy emphasis on the coaching of teachers, among other strategies.

Aspire isn't the only high-profile California charter school operator to have set its sights beyond the Golden State. Rocketship Education, a California organization known for blending traditional and online instruction (at a relatively low cost) recently unveiled plans to open eight new charters in Milwaukee, serving 4,000 students.

Tennessee created the Achievement School District as part of its winning, $500 million application in the federal Race to the Top program. The district is designed to include the lowest-performing 5 percent of the state's schools.

So far, the district includes six schools, though 85 schools around the state—the vast majority of which are in Memphis—would currently qualify, said Margo Roen, charter school portfolio director for the Achievement School District. The district is led by Superintendent Chris Barbic, the founder and former chief executive officer the YES Prep Public Schools, a charter school organization.

Aspire, like other school operators seeking to take part in the Achievement School District, will have to go through an application and interview process, the results of which will be announced in June. The evaluation process is being managed by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which is headquartered in Chicago.

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