TN Dept. of Education finds Rocketship out of compliance, severa - WSMV News 4

TN Dept. of Education finds Rocketship out of compliance, several violations

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Rocketship Nashville Northeast Elementary School (WSMV) Rocketship Nashville Northeast Elementary School (WSMV)

A letter sent to the principal of Rocketship Nashville Northeast Elementary School indicates the school is in violation of state and federal laws and is also is not abiding by its contract with Metro Schools.

According to the Metro Schools letter, Rocketship is not providing services to children with special learning needs, like English language learners and students with disabilities.

The notice was sent from Metro Nashville Public School's top administrators after a monitoring team with the Tennessee Department of Education came in to conduct a routine audit of special services, primarily programs adhering to The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The letter says Rocketship is not for providing adequate services students who are trying to learn English.

Metro Schools noted that since August 2015, it has tried to help Rocketship by offering an English Language (EL) coach as well as other professional development opportunities, but it said Rocketship NNE did not take advantage of the opportunities, except for once.

Metro School Board member Will Pinkston has been critical of Rocketship and other charters.

"I'm going to propose that we take a good hard look at this school and others through audits and through other more intense monitoring mechanisms, because it's clear that there is a lot going on that we're just not aware of," Pinkston said.

The letter notes that the school is not providing specialized services to students with disabilities.

"To me, this is a civil rights issue," Pinkston said. "If you have students with disabilities that aren't getting services they are entitled to receive … whether it's a traditional public school or a charter, it's a problem," Pinkston added.

Lastly, the letter from Metro School executives says that not all of the homeless students at the school are receiving uniforms for free, even though uniforms are required to go to class.

"Either the school is not letting in homeless students who don't have the uniform, or they're forcing homeless students to somehow scrape together the money to get the uniform. Either way it's wrong" Pinkston said.

The Tennessee Department of Education said it conducts routine monitoring of federal programs like IDEA and ESEA. They visit urban districts like MNPS every year and conduct school visits.

The team visited about six Metro schools in early February, including Rocketship NNE. The state says the district has been very responsive in trying to get the issues resolved. The first response was due March 1, 2017.

Rocketship and Metro Schools must submit updated plans and procedures to the state in response to the finding. The Tennessee Department of Education will be following up in the coming weeks.

The principal of Rocketship, Shaka Mitchell responded to the report with the following statement:

Rocketship has a proven track record of supporting students from disadvantaged communities with excellence, including students with special needs and English language learners. Our first school in Nashville, Rocketship Nashville Northeast Elementary, achieved the second highest growth score among all 73 elementary schools on the most recent state assessment. On the most recent WIDA ACCESS test, which is used to measure language proficiency among English Language Learners, our students outperformed elementary students across Davidson County. We are proud of the results Rocketship achieved in its first few years but are always striving to improve. We appreciate and value the constructive input from our colleagues at MNPS and the state. We worked with the District as recently as yesterday and today, and continue to collaborate to resolve the technical issues noted in the most recent monitoring visit.

Another Metro school that also had a violation during the audit was McMurray Middle Prep. The team found that McMurray did not have the paperwork to identify migrant students in 70 percent of their student's files.

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