National leader in charter schools speaks on campus at Education 2020

By Janel Shoun on 12/4/2011


Engaging parents, intense professional development for teachers and individualized learning are the factors that set apart charter school network Rocketship Education from public school systems, said Rocketship CEO and co-founder John Danner at a forum sponsored by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Lipscomb University College of Education.

Education 2020, a speaker series of the chamber, was held on the Lipscomb campus on Wednesday, Dec. 7, and featured Danner, who runs the nation’s leading network of K-5 charter schools. Danner got his start in education as a teacher at Glengarry Elementary School in Nashville in 2000.

The discussion of charter schools was timely, as the Metropolitan Nashville School District has been making a push to partner with charter school operators to improve performance. The State of Tennessee has also established the Achievement School District, focused on turning around the bottom five percent of schools in the state through a number of methods including partnership with charter school operators and nonprofit organizations.

Lipscomb University is part of a three-year transformation process at Nashville’s Cameron Middle School to transition the challenged, urban, diverse school into a charter school over the course of five years. At Cameron, Lipscomb is providing customized, on-site professional development, similar to the type of intensive professional development that Danner recommends to improve teacher performance and student achievement.

 See more on the program at Cameron by clicking here.

At Rocketship, teachers discuss each child in their classroom with academic deans and mentors, develop specific teaching goals for eight-week periods, and have frequent observations by academic deans who work to improve teacher performance, Danner said.

Individual learning is highlighted through the Learning Lab, where students spend two hours a day working on lessons specific to their learning level with a tutor or on a computer. Parents are also required to volunteer at least 30 hours with the school, and school officials make home visits for every family.

As a former business owner who sold his company and “retired” at age 31, Danner is focused on applying strong business concepts to charter school education. Unlike some charter schools that achieve academic success by increasing the hours of work for students and teachers, Rocketship excels by promoting individualized learning, which saves costs and has been proven to achieve academic improvement .

 “We are trying to model a school system that other school systems can use on a larger scale,” said Danner, who stresses that charter schools must not only produce academic results, but must be economically viable on a large scale in order to reform education across the nation.

Additional panelists at the forum were Chris Barbic, superintendent of Tennessee’s Achievement School District for the Tennessee Department of Education; Kristin McGraner, founder and executive director of STEM Preparatory Academy in Nashville; and Derwin Sisnett, co-founder and board chairman of Power Center Academy in Memphis.