Chris Barbic, who has led the state's Achievement School District (ASD) since its inception in 2012, has announced that he will resign in December.
Barbic broke the news in a letter on the ASD website Friday morning. The letter states that Barbic is leaving because he feels like it's time for a change in leadership and because the demands of the lead role at the ASD have led to strains on his health and family. Barbic suffered a heart attack last year.
The ASD was established in 2012 to facilitate charter school takeovers of failing Tennessee public schools. So far, most of the schools the ASD has taken over have come from Shelby County Schools' priority list, which lists schools in the bottom five percent. The takeovers have caused controversy and resulted in numerous hostile public meetings, where many parents and community leaders expressed disdain with the state takeover system.
The ASD schools have had varied success in improving academic achievement. Some have shown more improvement than others. The model for how ASD schools are run differs depending on the charter operator, but all allow more autonomy for teachers and all allow school leadership to make their own staffing decisions and set their own budgets and programming.
"I came here to answer Tennessee’s urgent call to improve priority schools and to build a new kind of school district that would put the power back in the hands of parents and teachers. Now that this foundation is in place, it is the right time to think about passing the baton to a new leader who will take our work to the next level for the benefit of the students and families we serve," Barbic states in his letter.
As for his more personal reasons for leaving, Barbic writes "I am simply at a point in my life where I need to focus more on my family and my health. Building the ASD has been grueling work. The pace and stress of a superintendent role, especially this one with weekly trips from Nashville to Memphis and multiple nights away on the road, does not lend itself to decades of work. We have been at this for nearly four years, and I have promised my family a change in pace."
Despite criticism of the ASD, Barbic's letter remains optimistic.
"The impact has been clear. Kids’ lives are being changed. Over the last two years, student proficiency in Tennessee’s priority schools grew four times faster than in non-priority schools, and thanks to hardworking partners and educators in Memphis, there are 4,500 fewer students attending priority schools," Barbic writes. "By this time next year, every priority school in Tennessee will be in the ASD, in a district-led iZone, or undergoing some kind of major local intervention. If we keep this up, within just a few years, chronic failure in schools will have real potential to be a thing of the past."
Barbic's full letter is available on the ASD website.