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VOL. 129 | NO. 11 | Thursday, January 16, 2014

Leaders Seek Reaction on Schools Closings

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Schools leaders expect to hear a lot Thursday, Jan. 16, when they hold a public hearing on the latest tentative list of 13 schools that could be closed in the new school year that starts in August.

The 6 p.m. public hearing in the school system's auditorium, 160 S. Hollywood St., involves what Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson calls the “low-hanging fruit” in closing facilities that have a low enrollment and in which student achievement is low. There could be another round once Hopson and his staff complete an overhaul of attendance zones for schools across the system taking into account the formation of the six suburban school systems starting in August.

“Now we know what schools we are going to have. We know the reality is there are some schools where achievement is not close to where it needs to be,” he said of the rezoning effort. “But there are some safety issues. The challenge for us is to make sure that every school is a school that parents feel comfortable sending their kids to.”

HOPSON

In December, Hopson added four schools to the list for possible closure that he first made in April.

Hopson also took Carver High School off the list, opting instead to explore closing nearby Riverview Middle School and make Carver a grades 6-12 school. The three other new schools on the list are Cypress and Vance Middle Schools and Klondike Elementary School.

The closing of Vance would also result in Booker T. Washington High School becoming a grade 6-12 school.

Hopson will make his final recommendations to the school board in time for a February vote and has said the list could change by then based on what he hears at the session Thursday.

That was what happened in the case of Carver where alumni and area residents suggested making Carver a grades 6-12 school.

He also wants to hear from alumni and residents who live near the schools about what they might be able to do toward the system’s goal of getting all third graders reading on grade level if their schools are to remain open.

“I’d like to see them bring a plan of how the community can help improve the literacy rate,” he said. “It doesn’t take any specific plan or any specific program or cost one dime for people in the community to say we are going to all rally together and we’re going to go up to whatever school on Thursday at 3 o’clock and read to these kids and teach kids how to read.”

Hopson has emphasized that most of the schools on the preliminary closing list are there because they are in the bottom 5 percent of schools across the state in terms of student achievement.

But other schools are on the list for possible closure because Hopson wants to close schools that the state-run Achievement School District takes over, even if it is a phased-in take over with a grade or two per year over several years.

Hopson has said the “co-location” in such schools hasn’t worked well for either the ASD or Shelby County Schools.

Meanwhile, the school system is just starting on the ambitious revamping of school attendance zones.

“We want to start from the premise that all kids should go to a school within five miles of their house and if we just totally rezone the whole thing how would it look,” Hopson said at the outset.

“When I looked at some of the transportation that we do, we’ve got kids passing three or four schools to go to a school. A lot of that was because of different school districts,” he added. “It also will guide our discussion even more in terms of additional schools that might need to be closed. Right now we are really going for the low-hanging fruit.”

Beyond the low-hanging fruit is Cordova, where the boundary between the legacy Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools systems before the merger was also a political fault line.

“Some things they just jump off the page at you,” Hopson began when asked specifically about changes to attendance zones in Cordova, an area that includes territory within the city of Memphis and territory in unincorporated Shelby County.

The line between city and county is no longer a border for school districts.

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