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VOL. 7 | NO. 3 | Saturday, January 11, 2014

On the Border

Cordova caught in middle of de-merging of suburban schools

By Bill Dries

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The first attendance zone maps and details about where school children in Cordova might go to school this coming August was the dominant topic of discussion when the Cordova Leadership Council held a town hall meeting late last year.

The maps were a tentative idea by Shelby County Schools staff of which public schools students in Cordova – within the city of Memphis and in unincorporated Shelby County Schools – might attend once the consolidation of public education becomes the de-merger of separate suburban school systems.

And Brian Stephens of the community group didn’t like what he saw on the map.

School attendance zones in Cordova are about to change, forced by the demerger of suburban schools that will take Cordova students out of Germantown schools. It has alarmed people like Brian Stephens of the Cordova Leadership Council.

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

“You had kids coming from Raleigh to Cordova High,” Stephens said. “But kids from Cordova going up to Bolton, north of Arlington. It seemed like a really silly way to do it, like somebody was just counting numbers and not thinking about the people actually involved in them.”

Shelby County Schools board members have formed a committee of the whole to look at other possibilities for an area split geographically and politically by the old border between the legacy Memphis City Schools and the legacy Shelby County Schools.

Those school attendance zones as well as most others for the two separate school systems were frozen into the merger of the two systems.

“If there’s any victim in the schools merger, I think it’s Cordova,” said Shelby County Schools board member Billy Orgel. “I also think if there was any victim in the Memphis City Schools-Shelby County Schools being two separate districts – they were always the victim.”

The boundaries have to change because children in the part of Cordova in unincorporated Shelby County who attend Germantown Schools will remain part of Shelby County Schools after Germantown forms its own school system in August. It sets up a ripple effect into Cordova that could work one of several ways.

There could be room for them at the three Germantown schools – Germantown Elementary, Middle and High schools that are within Germantown’s borders but which remain in the Shelby County Schools system after the demerger. Students living in Germantown will have the option of remaining at those three schools or they can attend other schools in the Germantown Schools municipal system.

“I think that the students that were attending schools in Germantown … I know that if the Germantown students all leave our system, we’ll have good capacity at Germantown Elementary, Middle and High schools,” Orgel said. “Riverwood (Elementary) is at capacity. We’ve got capacity at Cordova High School.”

Stephens agrees with Orgel, however, that the goal in resetting Cordova school attendance zones shouldn’t be just dealing with a bulge of school-age children.

“I’m much more concerned about the long-term effects on our community as a whole. I know that everybody’s worried about what is going to happen in the fall with their children,” Stephens said. “That certainly is a concern to us too. But I’m also trying to make sure that people are focusing on not causing long-term issues for short-term fixes.”

Orgel said the key to that is changing attitudes in Cordova about its public schools that have been based on which side of the old border between city and county schools a school building was in.

“I think we want to do whatever we can to build a strong community in Cordova,” he said. “If some of those schools that the kids are attending aren’t available to them anymore because of municipal school districts, we want to make sure we give them every opportunity we can to have a school of their choice within Shelby County Schools.”

That involves more than a decision by the Shelby County Schools board. It calls for a change among some parents in the area who have reacted to the transition of schools from one system to another rapidly over the years.

“Some of the parents are already selling their houses and taking a run for whatever nearest border they can find. I get that they are real nervous now,” Stephens said. “It was the parents that made the strong school. I think that if the parents stay together and stay focused they can make a strong school no matter where the children go. It’s not based on what some administration of the day is saying. It’s based on what the parents do and their involvement in the school district.”

Stephens hopes for some kind of new report and recommendation from Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson by the end of January based on guidance from school board members in committee.

“What people want for a good stable community is knowing what the future holds,” Stephens said. “I think people can accept a lot and people can be flexible but they just need to know where they are going in a timely fashion.”

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