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VOL. 123 | NO. 154 | Thursday, August 7, 2008

Cash Prepares for New School Year

By Bill Dries

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PLAN IN PLACE: New Memphis City Schools Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash earlier this week told the Memphis Rotary Club “This won’t be about luck. This is going to be about a plan that’s got to work.” -- PHOTO BY BILL DRIES

In less than a month on the job, Memphis City Schools superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash has restructured the school system’s top ranks and proposed eliminating 142 management positions. He’s talked compromise with Memphis City Council members and prepared for the opening of schools later this month.

Earlier this week, Cash also pitched his new and rapidly forming vision for the school system to about 250 members of the Memphis Rotary Club. Cash spoke during the week that teachers are returning to city and county schools to prepare for the opening of schools.

And he told Rotarians it will be a different opening for a different school year.

“I heard a lot of you say across the city, ‘Good luck,’” Cash said. “This won’t be about luck. This is going to be about a plan that’s got to work.”

Remove ‘other things’

Cash has focused on a group of 25,000 students in a school system that has roughly 113,000 children. Of those 25,000, 10,000 have failed and remained at the same grade level three times by the sixth or seventh grade. The rest have failed and been retained twice. The “overage” students, as Cash termed them, represent a “significant nexus.”

“They’re overage because they have poor literacy skills. … We then have a problem with discipline, with truancy, with paying attention, with getting along, with bullying, with utilizing the schools as a new marketplace literally to do some other things,” Cash said.

The comment about students using schools to do something other than learn echoed remarks made in February by Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin. Herenton and Godwin said some school principals weren’t cooperating with police, and were allowing street gangs to use their schools as venues for drug dealing and gang activity free of police intervention.

“Some of these principals have made some decisions that they are not going to cooperate with the Memphis Police Department. And that’s nonsense,” a frustrated Herenton said the day after an unloaded gun was found in the backpack of a student at Mitchell High School and just days after a student at Mitchell was shot three times by another student in gym class.

Godwin was even stronger in his sentiment.

“Schools seem to be a sacred cow, where those that want to engage in criminal activity take their violence, take their weapons, take their drugs and think that they’re protected inside, behind the walls of the school,” he said.

Cash’s first action on the job was to hire a new head of security, Gerald Darling, who followed Cash to Memphis from the Miami-Dade public school system in Florida. The security plan announced by Darling and backed by Cash includes regular and daily use of metal detectors at schools with a history of trouble. But Cash also has attributed the problems to a very specific cause – overage students.

Cash said the problems associated with overage students shouldn’t be viewed separately.

“They work together to create a population that is really the issue in our schools,” he said.

Finding a solution

Cash already has talked with University of Memphis leaders about putting working students to the problem.

“What if instead of working for Back Yard Burger … for $6 an hour, work for me. Work for City Schools. We’ll pay you $8 to $10 to tutor these children,” he said, as he also talked of tutoring to help the school system overcome a 50 percent failure rate for students taking the mandated Gateway algebra exam.

From opening day later this month, Cash also vowed City Schools will abide by two basic rules for all students.

“Dress code enforced, cell phones out. If we get that solved, you watch the dominoes on security in school,” he said.

By enforcing the dress code, Cash means more than simply wearing the right color and make of pants and shirts.

“The kids abide by it, but they buy a pair of pants two, three sizes too big,” he said. “I’m going to have closets everywhere. And in the closets are extra pants, but the right size and extra shirts, but the right size. You can’t come to class until you put on the right size shirts and the right size pants.”

Those words came after Cash warned parents in the audience that if their children bring a cell phone to school twice and get caught twice – the phone will be confiscated and not returned.

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