Emerald Youth Foundation plans Knox Co.'s first charter school

A long-time advocate for Knoxville's urban youth plans to open the first charter school in Knox County.

Emerald Youth Foundation's Executive Director Steve Diggs said they are forming a new nonprofit called Emerald Charter Schools to apply to the Knox County School Board for a charter academy. If approved, the school would not open until fall 2015.

Emerald Youth Foundation has worked with inner city children and teenagers for two decades through sports teams, leadership programs, and faith-based programs. The nonprofit has a long-standing partnership with Knox County Schools. More than 1,300 kids participate in their programs each year.

"We have a great track record with Knox County Schools and we really appreciate the relationship and the partnership we've had in the traditional public schools and we plant to keep that. We hope this will be something helpful to the school system as well," Diggs said.

Emerald Charter Schools wants to create a kindergarten through eighth grade school called Emerald Academy. The group will start with the first two grades and will add two more each year. The nonprofit hopes to find a building in North Knoxville around Fulton High School. By the end of the decade, they hope to be serving 450 children in Emerald Academy.

Emerald Youth says the idea for a charter school came after a year-long study showed Knoxville often fails to reach its inner city youth. Executive Director Steve Diggs said their research and state testing numbers show there is a significant achievement gap between urban and suburban Knoxville.

"When you take an honest look where our kids are in our urban communities the gap is very pronounced. We have to accelerate the pace of achievement," Diggs said. "Through this process and our board really taking a critical lead in that work, it became clear to us that we had a role as a community member to try to have a response."

Right now there are no charter schools operating in Knox County. One group applied and was approved by the school board but failed to raise enough money to open.

A charter school is defined as a public school open to all students. It cannot be religious- that's why Christian-based Emerald Youth is forming a separate entity. The funding comes from tax dollars based on student enrollment. If a student transfers from another public school, the funding associated with the student follows them.

The Emerald Academy must be approved by the Knox County School Board.

Emerald Charter schools plans to submit an application by April 1, 2014. If approved, they are required to have a year of planning. The school would not open until the fall of 2015.

Diggs said they are modeling the new school off Breakthrough Schools' E Prep Middle School and Village Prep Elementary School in Cleveland, Ohio. They said the schools "significantly outperformed Ohio public school student (urban and suburban) on average on every single test at every single grade level.

Visit Emerald Charter School's website at www.emeraldcharterschools.org.


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