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VOL. 128 | NO. 21 | Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hopson Calls for Unity in Schools

By Bill Dries

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Once countywide school board members finished Tuesday, Jan. 29, posing for a picture with outgoing Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash, the board quickly got back to the emerging details of the coming schools merger.


They approved Memphis City Schools attorney Dorsey Hopson as the interim superintendent of the Memphis City Schools system effective Friday, Feb. 1, through the end of June.

And the board set July 1 as the effective date of the transfer of Memphis City Schools into the Shelby County Schools system – the merger date.

Meanwhile, classes in the consolidated countywide school system for the 2013-2014 school year will begin Aug. 5 under the school year calendar also approved this week by the school board.

All of that happened with considerable debate among the board but mostly lopsided votes.

“I have no desire to do this long term,” Hopson said after his selection, indicating he hopes to remain as attorney to the consolidated school system.

Hopson was the first nominated and was appointed without objection by the board after it voted not to select Memphis City Schools operations chief Roderick Richmond, who was nominated by board member Martavius Jones.

Richmond indicated he will apply for the superintendent position of the merged school system, which was a factor for several board members who voted for Hopson.

“I don’t want this to become a political mess over the next four or five months of jockeying for position,” school board member and Arlington Mayor Mike Wissman said.

Jones called on Cash to say who he supported. Cash said he didn’t think that would be fair.

“Stop dividing this board,” school board member Kevin Woods said to Jones.

Hopson said he is “deeply humbled and honored” at the selection.

“The first focus needs to be to work with Dr. Richmond … to make sure we sustain the academic goals and the academic achievements we have gained during Dr. Cash’s tenure,” Hopson said of his goals. “There also needs to be one voice for this merger, so we need to mobilize and get behind (Shelby County Schools superintendent) John Aitken.”

There was more board debate during the approval of the school year calendar when school board member Joe Clayton tried to amend it to change the “winter break” in late December and early January to a “Christmas break.”

“In public schools, we’ve taken God out of schools. We’ve taken discipline out of schools,” Wissman said. “We’ve become more politically correct and we take it out of this country. We are a fluid society now. We’ve changed some. But that’s still what this country was based on.”

But other board members said both school systems are more diverse spiritually and religiously.

“We can’t stop children from praying,” school board member Tomeka Hart said. “The only thing we can do is stop forcing children to pray. People who pray are praying everyday in school.”

“The reality is that a lot of our discipline structure and other things were founded on pieces of the Old and New Testament,” countered school board member David Reaves. “I think it signifies something we need to stay aligned to.”

The board adopted a compromise to refer to the break as a “holiday break.”

Cash’s last board meeting before he becomes an “adviser” to the school system through the end of July, under terms of his resignation, demonstrated what is expected to be an acceleration of the merger process.

School board chairman Billy Orgel told board members he will be calling numerous special meetings beyond the once-a-month voting meetings.

“I think we are going to be seeing a lot of each other going forward,” he said.

The board approved Tuesday a schools admissions policy for the merged school district that adopts the Memphis City Schools model that allows teachers and school staff to request their children attend the school they work at with permission of the principal.

It ends the Shelby County Schools policy that permits teachers to get a school transfer for their children to any school they select.

And the board voted to set up an examiner’s position and a special committee of one school board member and two school system administrators to hear appeals from parents who want to challenge their child’s school assignment. The committee approach to the appeals is the Shelby County Schools model.

Administrators of both school systems and several board members said they expect there will be a rise in the number of such appeals as the merger begins.

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