VOL. 128 | NO. 247 | Thursday, December 19, 2013
School Board to Weigh Additional School Closings
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Schools board members voted Tuesday, Dec. 17, to start the process of considering the closing of four more schools for the 2014-2015 school year, bringing the number of schools that could close to 13.
The process sets in motion a set of public hearings the school system will hold in the communities to be affected.
SCS superintendent Dorsey Hopson said he will probably make his final recommendations on school closings based on those hearings and seek a board vote on them in February.
“It’s not a done deal,” Hopson said after the school board heard from critics of the plan to close Alcy Elementary School. “What the board has voted on is to allow the administration to move forward with continued analysis.”
And he pointed to the inclusion of Carver High School on the list for possible closing in April. Hopson recommended instead this month that Carver remain open and that the board consider closing nearby Riverview Middle School and make Carver a school for students in grades 6-12.
Alcy Elementary has been on the list for possible closure since April.
“You actually have a sizeable amount of students,” Tennessee Rep. Raumesh Akbari said of Alcy. “The people at this school … have all really put forth an effort to tackle the achievement issue.”
Joshua Forbes said closing Alcy would amount to “destroying the community by proxy.”
Hopson said he’s open to considering alternatives like the one from community leaders in the Carver neighborhood that wound up being his recommendation.
But Hopson also said continued low student achievement at the schools combined with underutilization is a major factor in weighing what is best for the students.
“I know this is a tough emotional issue. I hear these fine people in the Alcy community,” he said. “It just doesn’t make sense to operate under-enrolled, underperforming schools.”
The four new schools added to the list for possible closure this month, in addition to Riverview Middle School, are Cypress and Vance middle schools and Klondike Elementary School.
Most are in the district of board member Shante Avant, who expressed her concern.
“We have never closed this amount of schools in one school year,” she said.
Schools board member David Reaves said the burden is on Hopson and his administration to make the case for closing schools. He also had concerns about “the scorched earth policy to where we close a bunch of schools and basically take the last vestiges out of a community and then the community disintegrates.”
Meanwhile, Hopson said his other strategy with the school closings is to close schools that the state-run Achievement School District is taking as part of its system. That includes schools that the ASD is moving into partially over several school years.
The phased-in takeover is called “co-location,” and Hopson said it makes it difficult to recruit teachers in the conventional school in a building with the achievement school. Shelby County Schools is also still paying to administer the school building.
“We found it to be inefficient and not best for kids,” Hopson said. “We don’t want to co-locate anymore.”
The Achievement School District is for those schools that are in the bottom 5 percent across the state of Tennessee in terms of student achievement.
Instead of co-locating with ASD schools, Hopson said Shelby County Schools will instead transfer the students in the remaining grades that it administers to different conventional schools in the area. When the state-run school takes in those grades, the students have an option to attend the ASD school or remain at the school they already attend.