The Prelude

The 2017-18 Planning Year of Believe Memphis Academy has officially come to an end. Starting tomorrow, July 1, 2018, we begin the Founding Year of our school.

In the story of Believe Memphis Academy, we are about to begin Chapter 1. But, the prelude is a story in its own right, without which the rest of the story would not exist.

On August 22, 2017, the Shelby County Schools Board of Education voted to approve our charter application. At that time, we set 6 goals for this year.

  1. Enrollment

  2. Staffing

  3. Facilities

  4. Curriculum

  5. Systems & Operations

  6. Governance & Funding

Everyone said the work of founding a school would be hard - that it would be demanding, that it would be dynamic, that it would be full of obstacles. They were right.

But, hardly anyone told me how good the work would be - that is except for one. I’ll get to that later.

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May 2017

We met Mr. Ivey on the last day of his son’s elementary school. The school was closing down, and his son was being rezoned to a different elementary school across town. Sarah, Luke (a founding board member), Luke’s wife and kids, and a couple volunteers and I set out a table and were giving away popsicles. As we talked about the vision for the school, Mr. Ivey was one of the first to sign up.

Six months later, at our first-ever Town Hall, he and his son showed up an hour early to the event. As we talked awaiting for others to arrive, time seemed to crawl - not because I didn’t enjoy his company - because I was anxious. 30 minutes before the event, the pizza arrived. Still just Mr. Ivey and his son. 15 minutes before. 10 minutes before.

At 5 minutes before, Mr. Ivey finally said, “Is my son going to be the only child at your school?”

I laughed and said, “Well, he will get ALL the attention he needs!” As I checked my watch. I walked out to the hallway, mostly because I was nervous, and I said a prayer.

3 minutes before, another family came. Then another. Then two more. By the end of the night, we have 30 people filling the room, and I thought to myself, “We can do this. This will work.”

 Mr. Ivey (middle) with his son, Anthony (right) who will be a founding 5th grader of Believe Memphis Academy.

Mr. Ivey (middle) with his son, Anthony (right) who will be a founding 5th grader of Believe Memphis Academy.

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October 2017

I was running into Cafe Eclectic to meet with two of our founding board members. I was stopped by a friend who introduced me to a new teacher who just moved to town. She was coming from New York - from an Uncommon School. That made me stop. Then, she said her husband, a native Memphian, Yale graduate, and TFA-Alum was looking for operations-based roles in Memphis. I said, ‘tell him to give me a call’ and handed her my card.

A couple days later, I get an email that says, “Hey Doug - heard you were looking for an ops person.”

I rolled my eyes, as I responded to set up a time for a call. Five minutes into the conversation, I knew I found our “ops person”. We talked about what we believed about the potential of all children. We talked about what a high-structure, high-joy class and school could and must have. We talked about Memphis. And, we talked about now.

I told my Building Excellent Schools coach about him. I told her, I found the guy, but I don’t have the funds yet. She looked at me and said, “Go get the funds. You gotta get this guy.”

We did. He signed. And, that new teacher I first met at Cafe Eclectic - she’s going to be our Founding Director of Curriculum & Instruction.

 Jeff Warren, our Founding Director of Operations (middle) and two board members - Jacque Rowe Fields (left) and Elana Cole (right) at our Town Hall in January.

Jeff Warren, our Founding Director of Operations (middle) and two board members - Jacque Rowe Fields (left) and Elana Cole (right) at our Town Hall in January.

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January, 2018

Jeff (the ops guy), Greg (Vice-Chair of our board), and I are sitting in a small conference room at the Board of Education. We’re some of the first there, and we position ourselves in the back corner, trying not to bring too much attention to ourselves. Soon, the room is filled with Shelby County Board Members, the Superintendent, and members of his staff. They’re talking about facilities. On the other side of the room sat the Director and Board Chair of Perea Elementary School.

As the SCS Board Facilities Committee Meeting continues, the item on the agenda comes up around leasing SCS building to Perea, from whom we would sublease a portion. The building used to be an SCS elementary school that was converted to an ASD charter school, and now sat empty with 88,000 square feet of unused space.

As the board discussed the option to lease, one staff member speaks up, “Within a two-mile radius of that school, there are now schools that have a TVAAS score of 3 or higher, and there are no SCS middle schools in that area.”

The conversation turns to logistics of leasing. We walk out with Perea, hug and shake hands. A month later, the board votes to approve the lease. We got our building.

 Klondike Elementary School, 1250 Vollintine Ave, will be the founding home of Believe.

Klondike Elementary School, 1250 Vollintine Ave, will be the founding home of Believe.

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During the Fellowship Year with BES, we would get many emails from BES. They always ended with the phrase, “The work is hard. The work is long. And, the work is good.”

I expected hard. I expected the long hours. The good still surprises me, but it is so good.

On behalf of the founding team of Believe Memphis Academy, thank you for all the ways you have supported, followed, and cheered us on along the way.

We set six goals at the beginning of this year. Here’s where we are today:

  1. Enrollment - 190 applications for 120 spots.

  2. Staffing - Badgers found. 15 individuals, 11 individuals with prior teaching experience, 8 people of color, 7 with master’s degrees.

  3. Facilities - identified, secured, renovated (see pictures).

  4. Curriculum - identified, set, and revised.

  5. Systems & Operations - BOTE (Best Operations Team Ever).

  6. Governance & Funding - 100% giving board of 10 members who beat our annual fundraising goal by 140%.

The best days of Believe are ahead of us. The days where we get to repay our community for all the ways you have supported and partnered with us to ensure we have this chance are coming.

On July 9, our founding staff will gather at our renovated building to begin July Training.

On July 31, our founding 4th grade scholars will come for their orientation day to kick off the beginning of the school year. The next day, on August 1, our founding 5th graders will have theirs.

And from that day through May 23, 2019, every scholar of Believe will spend every minute of every day receiving high-quality instruction that prepares them with the academic rigor, robust supports, and leadership development necessary to excel in high school, thrive in college, and lead lives full of opportunity.

Chapter 1 is coming. We hope you’ll continue to be a part of the story.

Believe Memphis,

Danny Song
Founder & Head of School | Believe Memphis Academy Charter School

Danny Song