Huffman Not In School Talks

By Bill Dries

Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman won’t be involved in any meetings this week aimed at some type of agreement among all of the parties in the municipal schools district federal court case.

And countywide school board chairman Billy Orgel said Tuesday, Dec. 11, the school board won’t be present at any meeting this week although the board is interested in talking with suburban leaders.

“We’re open to meeting with them,” Orgel said. “We’re not under any time pressure. We’re going to let them have their meeting and talk later.”

Tennessee Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis had urged Huffman to take on the role of a mediator toward some kind of agreement on the status of suburban schools in the merged countywide school system.

But Kelli Gauthier, director of community for the Tennessee Department of Education, said, “I think at this point we are just hopeful the parties can reach an agreement. But I don’t think the commissioner is going to take an active role in mediating.”

In other action, the school board got its first look at a proposed $23,000 plus expenses contract for PROACT Search, headquartered in Wilmette, Ill., to conduct the search for a merger superintendent.

Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools will consolidate starting in August with the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year.

The board has approved a timeline for picking the superintendent to oversee that merger by mid-February.

The board will vote next week on the contract with PROACT which was founded in 1997 as an executive search firm that specializes in school district leadership from superintendents to principals.

Meanwhile, Gordon Elementary School is going off a list of proposed school closings the countywide school board is considering.

Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash acknowledged that neither Gestalt Community Schools nor leaders of the Achievement School District are interested in taking over the entire school.

Gestalt operates a charter school among 6th graders for the state-led school district at Gordon alongside the conventional elementary school. Cash had proposed a conversion of the entire school to an Achievement School District charter.

The conversion of Humes Middle School by Memphis City Schools into a “magnet” or “optional” school for the musical arts continues to move ahead with the school board to vote on the school’s closing as a conventional school next week. That vote would be the first step toward its reopening in the first year of the schools merger as what Cash described Tuesday evening as an “optional school.”

He wants “fast track” action on the still emerging plan for Humes so parents applying for optional school choices starting in January will be able to consider Humes.

Catherine Battle, regional Memphis City Schools superintendent, for the area that includes Humes said the school system is working with unidentified partners in the “greater Memphis arts community” on “partnerships.”

Those partnerships that are still being negotiated could involve the arts organizations locating in the school and even renting studio space and bartering that for instructional time with students

“We want to see how far we can push this down the road,” Cash said.