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VOL. 127 | NO. 243 | Thursday, December 13, 2012

Countywide School Board Acts on Recommendations

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools become a single consolidated school system in August with the start of the 2013-2014 school year.

The countywide school board will get around to hiring a search firm to pick a merger superintendent at its meeting next week. And the goal is to pick a superintendent by mid-February.

But the school board is already acting on recommendations from the two separate school systems that are reaching into the first year of the merger. And those recommendations are coming ahead of board action on critical recommendations specifically dealing with the merger from the consolidation planning commission.

The football field at Kirby High School will get an artificial turf makeover with a board vote next week, causing one school board member to wonder aloud about whether county schools can be incorporated into the list for turf fields before any more contracts are approved and dollar figures are agreed to.

At its meeting next week the school board will also vote on turning Humes Middle School into an optional school for the musical arts that would open for classes on the first day of the merger.

For many parents of children in both school systems, the board’s final decision on whether optional schools will have a place in the consolidated school system is an important issue. Shelby County Schools don’t have such programs and Memphis City Schools have several forms and definitions of optional schools.

A final decision won’t be made on any merger recommendations until the school board votes perhaps in February on a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1.

The school board is acting on recommendations from the separate school systems. Those come ahead of board action on recommendations dealing with the merger from the consolidation planning commission.

A vote by the school board next week on closing Humes as a conventional middle school would be the first step toward its reopening on the first day of the first school year of the schools merger as what Cash described Tuesday, Dec. 11, 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, Memphis City Schools regional 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.

The Humes conversion and four outright school closings of Coro Lake, White’s Chapel, Orleans and Norris elementary schools are being considered by the school board.

A steering committee of administrators from both school systems recommended that slate as their response to a recommendation from the planning commission to close 21 Memphis City Schools.

Meanwhile, Gordon Elementary School is going off the list of proposed school closings the board is scheduled to vote on in March.

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 sixth 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.

Countywide school board member Martavius Jones has said the overall reality of what is happening with transitions of various kinds at several schools puts the school board closer to the goal of 21 schools than it might appear.

In his calculation, transitions of 10 Memphis City Schools to the state-run Achievement School District next school year and three school closings the board approved in the last two schools years count toward the total.

Combine that with the four closings and the Humes conversion being considered and there are 18 schools affected.

The 10 schools to become part of the Achievement School District in the 2013-2014 school year are to be announced Friday morning in Frayser.

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

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.

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