Phil Schwenk: An American Classical Education Charter School Could Save Taxpayers in Fast Growing Counties a Lot of Money

Phil Schwenk: An American Classical Education Charter School Could Save Taxpayers in Fast Growing Counties a Lot of Money

Live from Music Row, Wednesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed American Classical Education’s Phil Schwenk in studio to discuss the process by which a charter school application is accepted and how much a school would save taxpayers of growing Tennessee counties.

Leahy: In studio with us, our very good friend, Phil Schwenk, our favorite Quaker, Penn graduate, who’s also working with American Classical Education and will be a principal of one of these five schools. And five counties. And you’re describing the process whereby you get the opportunity to get approved by the local school board.

Schwenk: Absolutely.

Leahy: So you’ve put the applications in and where are we right now with these?

Schwenk: The applications have been submitted as of February 1st, got it. So all these districts have the application.

Leahy: Five weeks ago.

Schwenk: Yes. And it gives them time to look over this 500-page plus behemoth with all.

Leahy: And I’m sure they read every single page. I can’t wait to read page 385 of this behemoth. (Laughter)

Schwenk: Yes, I’m sure that’s what’s happening. And they do it the first day they get it. But yeah, so it gives them time to look at it. And then basically we have a setting where we end up being in front of them addressing any questions that they might have about it with what is called capacity hearings.

Leahy: It’s a capacity hearing. Do you have a capacity hearing on the horizon?

Schwenk: Yes. In fact, we have two next week. Where are they? On the 15th is Montgomery, and on the 16th is Rutherford County.

Leahy: Okay. So what happens in a capacity hearing? Is it before the school board?

Schwenk: It is.

Leahy: Is it a special session of the school board? Is it open to the public?

Schwenk: Yes, absolutely.

Leahy: You got this 500-page behemoth that I’m sure they’ve studied from beginning to end that you’ve put together. What kind of questions do they ask at the capacity hearing?

Schwenk: They have a rubric that’s been provided for them that they’re supposed to judge the application by.

Leahy: So the rubric is a set of questions and standards to be met. Who gives them that rubric, that standard?

Schwenk: It generally comes from the state. Of course, they can come up with rubrics of their own to look at, but it’s supposed to be something that comes through state law.

These are the things that a school is supposed to have and it has everything from the academic plan to the operations, finances, and everything that makes a school a school. And the questions they have, they have to do with those areas depending on where they see as either strengths or deficiencies in application to see clarity.

Leahy: You are the lead person there?

Schwenk: Joel Schellhammer. The two of us will be there.

Leahy: He is the overall head of American Classical American Education? And so you go in, and they ask these questions, and then how long do these capacity hearings take typically?

Schwenk: About an hour and a half.

Leahy: Not that long. What happens next?

Schwenk: Then we answer the questions and then we have to wait a couple of weeks to see what they decide. So by late April or early May, we should know if our schools have been approved in these localities.

Leahy: Oh, okay. So it’s that quick? Is it a majority vote or?

Schwenk: Yes, absolutely.

Leahy: And will you have these capacity hearings in all five counties this month?

Schwenk: No, we have three this month, two next month.

Leahy: But by the end of April, all the capacity hearings will be completed.

Schwenk: Absolutely.

Leahy: And you should know by the end of May or June…

Schwenk: Oh, by then, definitely.

Leahy: What the school boards are gonna decide? I’m particularly interested in Maury County because I live in Spring Hill, where two-thirds of it is in Williamson County, and a third is in Maury County. And I live in the Williamson County side of it. By the way, just as an aside, you wanna talk about population growth?

Oh my goodness. I saw a list of the largest cities in Tennessee. Clarksville is the fourth largest, with 170,000 people roughly up in Montgomery County. Murfreesboro is the fifth largest, with 165,000 people, in Rutherford County. Wow! And then Spring Hill, which is part in Williamson, part in Maury County, is like the 14th largest city. It’s about 56,000 people. It’s added 6,000 people in three years.

Schwenk: Oh, yeah. No. Rutherford and Maury County are the fastest-growing counties.

Leahy: They’re growing like crazy now. I’ve talked to a lot of people in Maury County, and they are having a very hard time providing schools to keep up with the population and then funding for those schools. Just even building them. If the school board were to approve your charter application there, how much money would the county have to build a charter school there?

Schwenk: Zero.

Leahy: Zero?

Schwenk: We would do that. We’re either going to build a facility or refurbish an existing building.

Leahy: So there’s zero expense?

Schwenk: We’d be saving the district tens of millions.

Leahy: Just from a pure dollars and cents perspective, your charter school would be saving taxpayers in these fast-growing counties a huge amount of money. We’re talking what, $10-$15 million bucks?

Schwenk: Or more,$30-$50 to build schools. They are expensive. Schools are expensive.

Leahy: Wow. And so if you build one, where do you get the money?

Schwenk: We have several private donors. So we have people who’ve established a fund for us to use.

Leahy: That’s a lot of dough.

Schwenk: Yes. It’s a lot of dough that’s able to get more dough. That’s how money works. But yes, we’ve had very generous donors for American Classical Education, and that’s what gives us the ability.

Leahy: My immediate reaction to this is, and this is part of the Barney Charter School Initiative or related to it?

Schwenk: Yes, definitely, our curriculum and our support of the teachers is through the BCSI network, but American Classical Education is where the money would come from a separate entity.

Leahy: But it’s a proven commodity.

Schwenk: Oh, hands down.

Leahy: And the outcomes from people that use the schools that used this curriculum are very good for students, right?

Schwenk: Oh, absolutely. That’s how I got into this work. I started at a BCSI school in Toledo. There are currently 22 BCSI schools. So you can look at the data and they’ve all done very well. That’s the type of school that we are hoping to start here in Tennessee.

Leahy: You’ve got a great track record. It’s not going to cost taxpayers a dime. This fits in the category of a brainer.

Schwenk: I think I struggle with, and I know this personally, these schools are very good. I love kids, the parents, this work, and the teachers. You are bringing something that is a known commodity, it is a good school, it benefits students and makes them more knowledgeable and good. You have decent good people that come out of these schools and we are going to save you a significant amount of money.

Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Reporwith Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Phil Schwenk” by Northwest Ohio Classical Academy. Background Photo “Students in Class” by Max Fischer.

















Nashville Metro School Board Member Talks Rapid Growth in District Six and Her Graduating Senior This Year

Nashville Metro School Board Member Talks Rapid Growth in District Six and Her Graduating Senior This Year


Live from Music Row Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. –  host Michael Patrick Leahy welcomed MNPS District Six school board member Fran Bush in studio to talk about the new middle school in District Six and their continued rapid growth.

Leahy: It is always a delight for us to have the wonderful Fran Bush in studio. A sane member, perhaps the only sane member of the Metro Nashville Public School Board. We were talking Fran about the growth problems in your District, District Six. And you have a new middle school approved, right?

Bush: Yes.

Leahy: When will that come online?

Bush: So this is the thing I think a lot of people really don’t understand. It’s a great thing, of course, when you hear a new school being built, but it takes two to three years for that school to be built. Therefore, we’re still having that good, bad problem. We have to make so many adjustments. Bring in more portables and even try to extend our buildings as far as construction to be able to provide more classrooms.

And of course, that comes with more teachers. Our student-teacher ratio increases. And if the listening audience doesn’t know, we can go up to 30 students in a classroom per one teacher. And that could be a deficiency when it comes to academic growth because you do lose students when you have such a large classroom. The smaller, the better. Those are the kind of things that we’re experiencing or we’ll be experiencing if we don’t move faster.

Leahy: In high school, you need a new high school because of the growth. And both high schools there now in Antioch and Cane Ridge, they’re overcapacity. I’m gathering it’s difficult for students and teachers alike there.

Bush: Yes. And just to add, when I just made the statement of adding on to our schools we were also approved to do an extension on the Cane Ridge High School, not the Antioch. Antioch we did about maybe two or two years ago we had an extension, another wing onto the high school just because of the growth. Now we’re going to be looking to do that for Cane Ridge.

Again, it’s going to take about two years to do that. So where are we at? We are at a high capacity. We have a new middle school coming that takes about two to three years. We found land for that. We’ve been approved for that. On this particular land my goal or my ask was, was it enough to build two schools, a middle and high school? But because of the density, it will not allow a second school on that property.

Leahy: So it’s going to be crowded for a period of time.

Bush: Yes. (Sighs)

Leahy: Catch us up now on where we are in terms of students in person, online, graduation, and sports. What’s going on there?

Bush: We are in a good space for our sports. Kids are playing. They’re running track, they are playing their spring sports and summer sports. And that is a plus. Parents are able to see their kids finally.

Leahy: Parents are able to finally see their kids play sports. Wow!

Bush: Yes. Now we’re inching upon graduation. We’ve had prom.

Leahy: They actually had proms?

Bush: They did.

Leahy: Were they wearing masks or what?

Bush: Yes. They were required to wear masks.

Leahy: Was it a masked ball? (Chuckles)

Bush: It was the cutest thing when you look at all the pictures and everybody had their mask matching their dresses or their tuxedos or whatever they decided to wear. And most of the proms were outside this year.

Leahy: They’re outside?

Bush: They were outside, weather permitting. They were outside this year.

Leahy: Proms, I’m told, have gotten bigger and bigger and bigger. They rent the limousines, they do all this sort of stuff. Is that right? I’m disconnected from that part of the world, but it’s a big deal.

Bush: I don’t think a lot of limo services were used this year. I didn’t see a lot of limos like usual. It was more of their own cars. Family members who had taken them. Because, of course, financially, it was a difficult time this year.

Leahy: How about graduation? What’s going to happen with graduation this year?

Bush: Graduation is moving forward in all of our schools and all of our high schools going to different arenas. So we’re excited about that. There are going to be some restrictions of course. As we inch into May, we can see some things that can be lifted or more people can attend graduation right now.

Let’s say, for example, only four tickets are given out per family. Well, that’s difficult. When you and I graduated from high school, everybody could come to see us graduate. So now it’s very limited.

Leahy: When I graduated from high school, they got there via horse and buggy. (Laughter) Not really.

Bush: It was a big deal. Parents are a little bit frustrated because my family is of 10, so only have four tickets. Who gets left off?

Leahy: Do you have a high school graduate this year?

Bush: I do. I have one graduating. Yes. I’m really excited.

Leahy: We must hear the details. What is your senior going to be doing after graduation?

Bush: My senior attends Hillsboro High School and he is so excited. It’s just so infectious to see his smile finally because during this pandemic, just so you know, we have lost a lot of our seniors graduating on time this year because of the pandemic. We lost them. And it wasn’t because they could not be a part of that virtual space in the platform. It was rigor. It was mental. Mentally it was really hard.

Leahy: Well, it’s hard. The mental difficulties of kids in that age. When you’re a teenager, the thing you want to do is hang out with other teenagers.

Bush: That’s right.

Leahy: And they got all this social stuff going on and they want to be part of it.

Bush: Exactly. And it was totally eliminated. So these students just felt so isolated. Depression was at an all-time high. Even my son, I have to say, and being honest, we went through a lot of mental depression with him.

Leahy: When do they come back in going in person?

Bush: Fully in person next year and we will have some virtual this year.

Leahy: Where are we now? Are we in person or is it virtual?

Bush: Yes. So those parents who chose in-person students are back in person.

Leahy: That’s been since what?

Bush: We got them back in February.

Leahy: In February.

Bush: We start putting them back in and transitioned them back in by grade. So you do have about 45 percent of students that are still at home, and we have about 50 to 53 percent that are back in person.

Leahy: So your son’s graduating?

Bush: Yes.

Leahy: Congratulations.

Bush: Thank you.

Leahy: And so does he have plans? What’s he going to do?

Bush: So Daniel is going to go to Tennessee State University. He’s going to go into communications. He is a very good speaker.

Leahy: I wonder where that comes from?

Bush: So yes. It doesn’t come far from me.

Leahy: Is he going to try for the football team with Eddie George?

Bush: I think he’ll probably be down there with them, I’m sure because he’s so outgoing. Daniel has never met a stranger. I’m so excited for him. This has been a long time coming to see that smile again.

Leahy: The Tennessee State thing I think that the announcement of the hiring of Eddie George as a head football coach to me is going to have a huge impact at Tennessee State in terms of enrollment.

Bush: Yeah, I think so, especially with recruiting for football. And if you haven’t heard about Master P, who is a very famous rapper, very well known and respected he actually spoke at one of our middle schools while he was here. He dropped off his son and his son had so many offers and he chose Tennessee State University to play basketball.

Leahy: He’s going to play basketball?

Bush: He’s going to play basketball. Big deal for the school. There’s a lot of great things coming to the school, and we’re really excited about it.

Leahy: So when I was growing up, even in upstate New York, I knew about Tennessee State football. It was a big deal. Too Tall Jones went there. So it was a big deal.

Bush: We had Oprah, who graduated from Tennessee State University. A lot of history, a lot of great history. We are really excited about the opportunities and what’s happening at the school. And I am an alumni of Tennessee State University. And I also have a son graduating from MTSU this year. So I have a lot of things, a lot of graduation going on.

Leahy: It keeps you busy.

Bush: Yes.

Leahy: And you had these kids when you’re, like, 10 years old, right. (Laughter)

Bush: Five boys.

Leahy: Five boys! You could have your own basketball team.

Bush: Yes. But it’s a lot of great things going on. So thank you for asking.

Listen to the third hour here:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Fran Bush” by Fran Bush Facebook. Background Photo “MNPS” by Metro Nashville Public Schools.