Memphis’ changing education landscape provides great opportunity for private contributors to positively affect the future of our public school system. One success story is Promise Academy, advanced by the dedicated leadership and investment of longtime Community Foundation donors Meg and Charles Gerber.
Promise Academy, one of the first charter schools in Memphis, celebrates its tenth year in 2015. The past decade has seen remarkable growth for the school, which comprises two Frayser campuses with 600 students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.
Charles, co-founder of Gerber/Taylor Capital Advisors, Inc., is president and chairman of the Promise Academy board. Having been inspired by the successful, fledgling education reform movement in Meg’s hometown, Chattanooga, Charles founded the school with a group that also included the Emmanuel Episcopal Center’s Colenzo Hubbard and his late wife, Debra, and Tom Beazley (pictured, center, with the Gerbers), former headmaster at Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal School and current executive director of Promise Academy.
Like all charter schools in Tennessee, Promise Academy is a public school open to any student. Originally housed in an Episcopal church in Frayser, the rapidly growing school moved into the then-shuttered Hollywood Elementary in 2007. In 2014, the school expanded into a second location—Promise Spring Hill. Spring Hill is under the Achievement School District, the state’s effort to turn around chronically poor performing schools.
Promise Academy consistently demonstrates impressive results. The academic performance ranks in the top quarter of all Memphis elementary schools, including optional schools.
“This is hard, hard work—harder than we imagined,” Charles says. But, “the work is also great fun. The families and kids that we’ve had the pleasure to work with have been a real joy. This has become a big part
of our lives.”
Tennessee’s charter schools receive significant per-pupil funding from the state that is often adequate in providing each school’s basic education program. However, most charter schools rely on philanthropic dollars for enrichment activities like after-school tutoring, sports, and the arts.
Meg and Charles Gerber—along with other of the Foundation’s donors—have found that having a fund at the Community Foundation provides them with a flexible way to support their interests in advancing public education in Memphis. The success at Promise Academy is just one example of this work.