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VOL. 127 | NO. 49 | Monday, March 12, 2012

Luttrell Pushes for Quicker Schools Decisions

By Bill Dries

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Now that the schools consolidation planning commission has settled on a structure for the merged school system to come, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell is pushing the countywide school board to make a decision sooner rather than later on arguably the two most immediate concerns of parents.

JONES

Luttrell said the board should move before school board elections in August to set attendance zones for the merged school system to come and pick a superintendent to run the merged school system.

LUTTRELL

The school systems are to be merged starting with the 2013-2014 school year.

“I would just strongly encourage the board to engage those two questions sooner rather than later,” Luttrell said of the two most common questions he and others involved in working out the merger details have encountered from parents.

“Where will my baby be going to school and who’s going to lead the system?” is how Luttrell described the questions.

School board members discussed the issue of selecting a superintendent at a recent retreat.

Board member Martavius Jones, who also serves on the planning commission, said many on the board want to delay any decision until after the Aug. 2 elections for seven seats on the 23-member board.

The seven positions covering the entire county will be the smaller school board that emerges at the start of the 2013-2014 school year when the other 16 positions are abolished under the merger plan.

“You could have complete 100 percent turnover on that board,” Jones said. “I don’t know of anyone who would want to go into a job where they know that their bosses – 100 percent of them – could be different.”

Luttrell argued that waiting until after August to pick a superintendent could mean there would be no selection until January.

“I don’t think that’s giving comfort to our citizens. It’s not giving them what they need,” Luttrell said. “We’re transitioning a system. We are mandated to make some tough decisions and then try as best we can to gain the respect and the confidence of the citizens.”

Jones countered that he and others on the school board feel the continuing uncertainty about the school system to come is another factor that works in favor of selecting a superintendent at a later time.

“The reality is someone coming into this particular job – Memphis and Shelby County – based on the national publicity we’ve received, they didn’t feel that anybody would touch it with a 10-foot pole,” Jones said.

Meanwhile, the planning commission has approved a general structure for the merged school system that allows several paths for school autonomy.

The commission’s decision last week sets the stage for more specific decisions to come by the body on the differing brands of autonomy.

“It addresses the new reality of where we are,” said planning commissioner David Pickler, who is the other countywide school board member on the commission. “It’s a map that does give us the opportunity to fill in the blanks.”

Still to be decided by the planning commission is how the process of “awarding” school autonomy to some schools within the district would work. That autonomy might not be the same as a charter school. It could be limited to items like letting a school set different hours or extended days to the school year. It could also allow a certain curriculum.

All of the schools across the four different types of schools would be held to common performance standards. The difference is in how they are held accountable.

Schools within the district would be held accountable by the superintendent of the school system.

Charter schools and those under a school innovation office led by someone appointed by the superintendent would be held accountable through a contract with the school system.

And schools in the Achievement School District that begins with six schools in the 2012-2013 school year are run by the state with a superintendent appointed by the governor.

The ASD targets the bottom 5 percent of Tennessee’s public schools in terms of student performance. The innovation office of the school district would govern those in the bottom 5 percent and eligible for inclusion in the ASD but not yet working as state charter schools or as achievement schools operating in a collaboration between the state and the school system.

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