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VOL. 127 | NO. 37 | Thursday, February 23, 2012

Autonomy Plan Part of Schools Consolidation Proposal Unveiled Thursday

By Bill Dries

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The schools consolidation transition planning commission will get two recommendations Thursday, Feb. 23, for the structure of a countywide consolidated public school system.

Discussion of Potential Themes

One is a “united” centralized school system leadership structure with what are described in an executive summary as “lean regional offices to support and manage principals.”

The second option, called “path to autonomy” would give individual schools or groups of schools the option to operate autonomously “under a performance-based contract with the district.”

Committee Update

“These schools either would become charter schools or would have a status similar to charter schools,” reads the executive summary released Wednesday afternoon. “Because not all schools will follow the path to autonomy, a more traditional governance structure (similar to the united option) would exist in parallel.”

The path to autonomy approach requires that autonomous schools be operated by non-profit entities with the possibility for public entities to be operators as well. There would be appointed parent and community school-level boards.

The autonomous schools envisioned in the option would be separate from existing and individual charter schools to be part of the still developing Achievement School District by the state or charter schools approved by the countywide board under state laws and regulations.

The recommendation comes from the planning group’s administrative organization committee headed by the two former chairmen of the old Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools boards. Martavius Jones and David Pickler, respectively, are members of both the planning commission and the countywide school board which along with state officials has the final say on whatever the planning commission recommends.

The full planning commission will vote on the options at its March 1 meeting.

The presentation to be made to the full planning commission Thursday also recommends a set of common features with either option.

Those features include an elected school board of either seven or 13 members. The Shelby County Commission is considering enlarging what is scheduled to be a seven-member school board starting with the 2013-2014 school year. An expansion to 13 members would match the County Commission’s own size and use the same district lines as the single-member redistricting plan the commission is considering.

The school district, whether united or on the autonomy path or both, would be divided into six regions similar to the four regional offices MCS superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash has implemented. The six regions would be the four existing regional offices in the MCS and two new regions that divide the current Shelby County Schools system in the county outside Memphis. The county outside the city would be divided into one region that is the six suburban towns and cities and another that is the unincorporated county.

Each region would have “roughly” equal enrollment.

The feeder pattern of where elementary school students attend middle school and then high school would not cross the regional boundaries.

The report also says either option would use “principal empowerment as a key aspect of the management approach.”

The 53-page presentation says the autonomy option would “require schools and families to navigate a more complex system.” It also warns the approach could lead to “equity/access issues.”

The weaknesses of the united approach include that it is less attractive to innovators and it is “most dependent on a high performing central organization, which many government entities are not.”

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