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VOL. 128 | NO. 168 | Wednesday, August 28, 2013

School Changes to Continue Beyond Labor Day

By Bill Dries

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At the start of the fourth week of the school year for the unified countywide school system, interim superintendent Dorsey Hopson and Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong talked directly about school security for the first time.

The Monday, Aug. 26, session was described by Hopson in a written statement as “a very productive meeting.”

“We both agreed that our highest priority is to work together to ensure that all of our students are safe in our schools,” he added. “We began to talk about what changes are needed.”

The changes will evolve after a tumultuous introduction to what was identified from the beginning as a crucial part of the merger outside the classroom – school safety.

The unanswered questions about who handles what on campus and once students step off campus came to a head Thursday, Aug. 22, when a fifth-grade kindergarten student at Westside Elementary School came to school with a gun in a backpack. The gun later went off in the backpack. No one was injured in the incident.

There was no hesitation Saturday evening when a man attending the Whitehaven Classic Football Tournament was shot and wounded while leaving the Whitehaven High School stadium.

The man is recovering.

The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office is investigating what would have been a Memphis Police Department case before the merger.

HOPSON

As the first school year of the merger began Aug. 5, Hopson set a goal of working out problems such as transportation by the Labor Day holiday. Security wasn’t mentioned as a problem area but arose quickly with the incident at Westside.

With Labor Day, scheduled changes begin to move the schools merger equation back toward more familiar and more political territory by a few degrees.

Sunday, Sept. 1, is when the 23-member countywide school board in place since October 2011 becomes a seven-member board consisting of members elected in 2012.

But even that isn’t going exactly as planned. The Shelby County Commission at its Sept. 9 meeting will appoint a replacement for the District 6 seat once held by Reginald Porter. Porter resigned to become Hopson’s chief of staff.

And Chancellor Kenny Armstrong earlier this month ordered a new election for the District 4 seat after voiding the results of the 2012 election between Kevin Woods and Rev. Kenneth Whalum Jr., in which Woods won by 106 votes in the certified results.

Woods could appeal the ruling, and if the election order is stayed pending an appeal, Woods would continue to hold the seat at least until the appeal is decided. If there is no stay, election officials have said they might try to get the seat on the Nov. 21 special election ballot.

As the board becomes a seven-member body, decisions are moving closer on the second school year of the merger, including whether to close 13 Memphis schools Hopson recommended earlier this year the board consider.

Former Memphis City Schools superintendent and Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, who is CEO of the charter school company W.E.B. DuBois Charter Schools Consortium, said the public education landscape in Shelby County still has “dramatic” changes to come.

“Charter schools will continue to grow, and they will reach a saturation point,” he said earlier this month as he opened several charter schools in Memphis, including one at Northside High School for teenagers in the custody of Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court. “Some of the existing charter schools are losing population to us. But the charter school population will grow and then it will level out.”

When the Tennessee Legislature takes up education vouchers again next year, Herenton predicted it will overcome differences within the Republican supermajority and pass a bill that starts their use.

“What remains in the unified district is going to be a much smaller school district with, quite frankly, the most difficult students to teach,” Herenton said of the impact of charter schools, vouchers and suburban school systems. “The system that remains in place will be underfunded, and you are going to see a large number of underutilized facilities, which the Board of Education will eventually close.”

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