Is a new schooling option coming to Knoxville in 2024? Perhaps, say the leaders of Chattanooga Preparatory charter school.

The team behind Chatt Prep is planning to open a new charter school, named Knox Prep, based on its existing boys-only model. If approved, Knox Prep would be the second charter school in Knoxville, and the first charter open to high school students.

Brad Scott, chief executive officer of Chattanooga Preparatory School, told Knox News the impetus for a new location was the demand from local families.

"We get calls about, 'Hey, do y'all have a bus from Knoxville to Chattanooga?' every day," Scott said.

As a tuition-free public charter school, Knox Prep would be free to attend for students in Knox County.

"We do believe in a community-led school, which is the core of our foundation here at Chattanooga Prep," Scott said. "So we are working with people on the ground in Knoxville to share with them our model of success for young men."

The executive team hired Knoxville pastor Stan Carter as the director of community engagement in Knoxville to support the school's belief that parents and community members know what's best for kids.

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Within the next few weeks, Knox Prep will hire a principal to oversee the application process and founding of the charter.

"We're specifically looking for a leader that has ties in Knoxville, whether that be family or they live in Knoxville or have some type of connection," Scott said.

Administrators plan to open Knox Prep in August 2024. Like Chatt Prep, the school will ultimately be a grades 6-12 school focused on college and post-secondary readiness.

But in its first year, Knox Prep will start with a single cohort of sixth graders. As the founding class moves up, the school will add a higher grade to accommodate them and fill in the following grade level with new students.

In its fourth year, Chatt Prep has 330 students and can serve up to 550. Knox Prep will be the same, Scott said, and share its mission of servant leadership. Knox Prep won’t be associated with a religion. Tennessee and federal laws forbid charter schools from being sponsored or operated by a religious organization.

Mission to serve young men

Why all boys? So education can be tailor-made, and to close an achievement gap.

"Boys, especially, are underperforming girls nationwide. Academically, socially, not even only in K-12 education, but post-secondary options as well," Scott said.

Knox Prep will replicate the Chatt Prep model where all students visit a college campus every year, are required to complete community service and are assigned a community mentor who "cheers them on the first day of school" and walks with the student through their academic journey.

"When we think about that opportunity gap that exists between boys and girls, an all-boys model can really tailor that social emotional development that boys need," Scott said. Knox Prep will replicate Chatt Prep's STEM-based curriculum.

The emphasis on science, math and technology makes Knoxville a uniquely exciting prospect, Scott said, because of proximity to Y-12 and the science community of Oak Ridge's laboratories.

Access to the Great Smoky Mountains is another aspect of Knoxville leaders are excited about, and of course building a relationship with the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

Scott is a UT graduate and plans to build partnerships with the college in both academics and athletics. He said they're already in conversation with UT about the need for higher college persistence rates for young men, especially young men of color.

Leaders from Chatt Prep have spoken with leaders at Emerald Academy, Knox County's only charter school, about how to partner with the school system.

"Knox Prep is not going to be a competition for other schools," Scott said.

Knox Prep is in the midst of the community engagement portion of its application, sourcing and finalizing an advisory board of Knoxville leaders.

Part of its community engagement is deciding where to place the new school. For cost efficiency, it may move into an existing building.

"Likely we will be looking at somewhere to incubate for the first two years while we build a new building," Scott said.

Two separate schools

Despite sharing founders and a model, Chatt Prep and Knox Prep won't be a system or a chain.

The schools will be separate but collaborative, taking turns hosting college signing days for athletes or field trips to their respective UT campuses.

Each school will have its own advisory board comprised of local leaders. Students will have access to extracurriculars including sports, art and music.

Having a second model of the same charter school will emphasize how an all-boys environment can be tailored to their natural competitiveness, Scott said.

"Not only with sports, but in the academics. Who has the highest ACT score, Chatt Prep or Knox Prep? Who who has the highest math scores?"

Applying for a charter

To cement the founding of Knox Prep, the school must be approved for a charter. Scott said they plan to submit a charter in April 2023 and open in August 2024.

Current laws require charter schools to get approval from the school board in their home district  Bills now before the state legislature would allow charter schools to apply directly to the state for approval.

Regardless on how those bills play out, Knox Prep plans to apply to the school board.

"We want to support the Knox County Board of Education and their goals. We want to be a community school," Scott said. "And so we will be submitting our charter to the Knox County school board with the hopes of approval."

Charter schools are public schools funded by tax dollars but operate privately. State law only allows nonprofit charter operators in Tennessee.

Knox Prep would be tuition-free and open to boys in all grades it intends to serve.

"The only prerequisite is they do they would have to live in Knox County," Scott said. "We don't accept kids based off their academic standing, their income or ability level."

Interested families would apply to the school as a public school choice option in November 2023 prior to the planned opening in 2024.

In February 2024, a lottery run on state guidelines by an outside auditing agency will select applicants up to the number of seats available.

"After the lottery is ran, that's who's in the school," Scott said. If seats become available, students are pulled off the waitlist.

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