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VOL. 129 | NO. 38 | Tuesday, February 25, 2014

School Board to Weigh 13 Closings

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County School board members could vote Tuesday, Feb. 25, on a set of 13 school closings the board has been considering since last April.

But the final recommendation from Superintendent Dorsey Hopson is likely to be a shorter list.

Hopson told board members at last week’s work session that he was still reviewing his initial thought about closing Westhaven and Alcy elementary schools. His thinking on each is different.

HOPSON

Hopson seems more likely to change his recommendation on Alcy Elementary School, which has a large number of school adopters and the kind of literacy programs that Hopson and the school board plan to make a system-wide priority.

Hopson said he was “impressed” by what he heard from the community. Some school board members note that the school’s student achievement scores still lag despite all of the community involvement and urged Hopson to set measurable and specific standards for improving student achievement if it is to remain open.

The physical condition of Westhaven Elementary drove the initial recommendation to close the Southwest Memphis school.

But Hopson is now concerned with the transfer of the school’s students to nearby Fairley and Raineshaven elementary schools, where there are also condition issues that would cost a total of about $8 million to alleviate, according to school system estimates.

School board members will be listening closely for an alternative that Hopson began to outline last week that involves building a new school in the area big enough to take the students from all three schools and then close all three buildings.

The scenario involves winning approval of the capital funding necessary for the new school from the Shelby County Commission.

Hopson isn’t likely to reverse the initial recommendation to close Northside High School despite arguments from alumni and other supporters that the student count at the high school has dropped because of rezoning of students to Douglass and Manassas high schools.

“We found that those solutions would not really fix the problem,” Hopson said. “You would have three underutilized high schools.”

He also pointed to the large number of students who are zoned to Northside now but who attend other public schools under transfers available to parents of students in low-performing schools or who attend private schools and charter schools.

And the idea of making Northside a grades 6-12 school requires a large number of middle school students who aren’t in the community either.

Supporters of Northside also cited the move of the school’s vocational education programs out of Northside as a factor in the school’s decline. But Hopson countered those programs were discontinued because of a lack of students who enrolled in them.

Instead of closing Gordon Elementary School, supporters suggested the school system could instead close nearby Carnes Elementary, about a mile away, and merge students from Carnes into Gordon.

But Hopson also expressed frustration that a rezoning and reconfiguration doesn’t change the larger reality of a declining enrollment in another part of western Memphis where some schools already have multiple names that reflect past consolidations of schools in the same area.

His final recommendation Tuesday could remain to close Gordon.

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