Editorial: More Things Changing with Historic Reform

Saturday, March 01, 2014, Vol. 10, No. 7

As we all prepare for a second school year in which the local education landscape will change dramatically, we see even more change on the horizon.

We specifically see the opportunity for changes that more of us can agree on.

The idea of neighborhood schools hasn’t quite gone the way of the little red schoolhouse. But the concept is being forced to coexist with open enrollment heightened by increased competition not just among public schools but with charter schools, private schools and the state-run Achievement School District.

Parents have choices. They have more choices now than in many of our lifetimes, probably more than ever. But we also find that many parents don’t know they have a choice or just how broad the range of choices are.

As our cover story notes, many parents who opposed the schools merger and backed the formation of the suburban school district are taking the pitch from Shelby County Schools seriously. It includes a new Woodstock High School and optional school programs at the three Germantown schools that remain part of SCS in August.

This month suburban schools leaders begin pressing their pitch to the same parents. Those plans could include a ninth grade academy in Bartlett to allow for more children from unincorporated Shelby County to continue attending Bartlett High School.

Parents are listening and leaders of all seven school systems are listening to parents as they begin indicating their preferences for the schools their children will attend.

Once the broad and porous boundaries of the demerger are established, the leaders of all of the parts of the profoundly changed local education scene should work together to pioneer open enrollment the way education itself is pushing into new frontiers in our classrooms.

Terms of a broader type of open enrollment depend chiefly on two factors – available space within schools and transportation.

The space situation, which can vary from school to school and region to region as the school age population doesn’t grow but does continue to move around, is likely to remain as it is for at least several fiscal years for Shelby County Schools as well as the six suburban school systems.

Many parents make sacrifices to get their children to the schools they want them in. They will learn any system necessary for them to make decisions about education they have the most confidence in no matter how screwed up and Byzantine the path is. It doesn’t mean the path to those preferred schools has to have so many turns, which brings us to the doorstep of the Memphis Area Transit Authority.

A reformed city bus system could help more parents take advantage of the broader education choices. Those choices are a pipe dream as long as the current bus system is their only option for getting their children to a school of choice when their best choice is not a neighborhood school.