Hearings About To Begin on School Closings

By Bill Dries

Memphis City Schools officials were to begin a series of public hearings on proposed school closings Monday, Dec. 10, at Coro Lake Elementary in southwest Memphis.


That was the tentative date set as the board took the first step last month toward the school closings. But the countywide school board will be discussing a confirmed schedule and possibly release it at the board's Tuesday, Dec. 11, work session.


Whenever the hearings get underway they will become part of an ongoing discussion about school use and school choice already well underway.

Coro Lake is one of four schools the countywide school board is considering closing. The meetings are to gauge the reaction of parents and others in the affected communities.

The board is scheduled to vote on the closings at its March 26 meeting.

Two other schools on the list are not closings as much as they are proposed transitions that reflect the impact charter schools and schools run directly by the state as part of the Achievement School District are having.

The slate of recommendations to be voted on in March includes converting Humes Middle School to a “magnet” school for performing arts and sciences starting with the new school year in August.

And all of Gordon Elementary School would become part of the Achievement School District. Gestalt Community Schools currently operate a charter school for the Achievement School District that operates within the conventional school at Gordon. The two institutions coexist in the single school building.

Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash last month described the ASD and the charter schools as part of “a delicate balance to negotiate through.”

The Gordon Elementary change would depend on leaders of the ASD agreeing to it. And Cash has said talks are still underway with the district.

“Next year, Gestalt is committed to serving sixth and seventh graders with a plan to continue growing a grade level each year inside the Gordon building,” said Jeremy Jones, spokesman for the Achievement School District when asked about the Memphis City Schools proposal for Gordon.

“Take all the kids. That’s the kind of piece I want –
be willing to take all of our kids.”

–Kriner Cash
Superintendent, Memphis City Schools

Sixth graders going to the Gordon Science and Arts Academy this year are students in the attendance zone for Humes.

Cash said in the talks with the Achievement School District that led up to the Gordon academy’s debut in the district with five other Memphis City Schools in August, it was Humes Middle School that ASD officials really wanted. And Cash said no.

“They want to be in Humes,” he said of leaders of the Achievement School District. “We thought that Humes was a historically significant school. … We felt that educationally we could do more for that community by repurposing Humes. Humes would be a huge loss and it’s a huge expense to refurbish and turn it over to the ASD.”

Before Humes makes its debut as a magnet school it will undergo a $12 million renovation if the board approves it.

In January, school leaders will unveil a historical marker outside the school noting that Elvis Presley was among the Humes graduates when it was a high school.

Asked by email about Cash’s description of the Humes-Gordon discussion, Jones said the Achievement School District is working with Cash on “making smart decisions about the future of our schools.”

Some school board members questioned the rationale or how much say Cash would have with the Achievement School District.

School board member Kevin Woods talked about the competition for a school that is not yet on the Achievement School District’s list but could be if test scores continue their current trend downward.

“If we don’t make that decision, Humes is going to be up for grabs,” Woods said. “And that marker for Elvis will belong to the ASD.”

Cash also told school board members last month that he believes the Achievement School District approach at Gordon of “co-location” of a charter in an existing school “is not the best educational arrangement.”

“Take all the kids,” he added. “That’s the kind of piece I want – be willing to take all of our kids.”

Cash and Chris Barbic, superintendent of the Achievement School District, have each acknowledged a competition for teachers.

At meetings with citizens connected to the 14 Memphis City Schools being considered for inclusion next school year in the ASD, Barbic has emphasized that while all teachers at the schools reapply for their jobs in the conversion, he is in the business of getting the city school system’s best to come to work for him.