Orange Mound is one of the most important neighborhoods in Memphis. Orange Mound was the first neighborhood in Memphis built with the intention of having black residents. This is in contrast to other black neighborhoods that turned into black neighborhoods due to white flight. A number of prominent Memphians have their roots in Orange Mound, and Melrose High School continues to have a very active alumni group. Orange Mound has seen violence and blight, and its schools have struggled. However, in the face of all of that, The Mound remains, in many ways, a cohesive neighborhood proud of its heritage and engaged in its present. As a Memphian, I've been pleased to see that the neighborhood has seen some resurgence in recent years.
Orange Mound is a neighborhood that is the focus of a great deal of education reform attention.
Last summer, Stand for Children plopped down a significant portion of its anonymously-donated $154,000 school board election money in Orange Mound. The goal, depending on how you look at it, was to elect Kevin Woods or to keep Dr. Kenneth Whalum from being elected. A couple of articles about those election expenditures: here and here. It's not looking good for Commissioner Whalum in his lawsuit regarding the election results. But here's what he said shortly after the election: "If our children are for sale, I need to know exactly how many votes they are worth," he said in a press conference Monday outside the former election commission offices Downtown, according to the Commercial Appeal in an August 6, 2012 article.
Let's just mention that Commissioner Woods is the same Kevin Woods that the County Commission is trying to protect by re-drawing the lines of the districts, so that the school board district lines would not exactly match up with the County Commission district lines. If they don't make an exception for him, then Commissioner Woods would be in the same geographic district as Chairman Billy Orgel, and they would eventually have to run against each other if they both wanted to stay on the school board.
The Achievement Advisory Council, a group appointed by the Achievement School District, considered last fall which of the city's schools should be given to which charter operators. The AAC actually recommended that two Orange Mound schools (Hanley and Cherokee Elementary Schools) be given to Aspire charter schools, a California charter looking to expand nationally. The ASD declined to go that far and gave Aspire only one school, Hanley Elementary.
The state closed Hanley Elementary at the end of the school year, but you wouldn't know it if you drove past it. Trying to avoid the mistakes made by Cornerstone prep, Aspire won't be changing the school colors or the school name, hired a few Hanley teachers, and has been ingratiating itself (to the extent that it can) in the neighborhood. According to the Commercial Appeal, it paid for a trip to California for community members to visit a school, it hosted a "game night", and planned to provide massages and pampering for parents at coming recruitment events. So the state gave away the school, and now, as part of its "recruitment process", Aspire hopes that its "investments" in the "community" will yield enrolled students. Investments like trips to California and massages.
And look at all the money Aspire has to "invest", according to the Commercial Appeal: "It applied for and received $800,000 in innovation funds this year to cover startup costs." In addition to:
"[its] budget is based on receiving $7,797 in state and local funds per student. It will also get up to $300 per child for capital improvements, plus $1,500 for every special education child. It will also receive $300 for every child who qualifies for free or reduced lunches. It estimates 90 percent fit that bill, according to its application to the ASD. It also anticipates up to $28 million from philanthropists as it builds out its network. In five years, Aspire intends to take over 10 low-performing schools here. Initially, it will serve K-5 students. By 2018, it expects they will be K-8 schools, with approximately 564 students in each."
So what does it cost to buy your way into Orange Mound? Maybe not as much as you expect to get out of it. Fair trade?
It will be interesting to see what else Aspire has up its sleeve in terms of its expenditures of philanthropic and California tax dollars, all in the name of gaining more Tennessee tax dollars. Looks like there's cleared area off to the side of the parking lot. Can't be a playground - Hanley already has a pretty new one in its courtyard, and Orange Mound is not exactly under-parked. Wonder if Aspire has another "investment" in mind . . .