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VOL. 128 | NO. 61 | Thursday, March 28, 2013

Hopson Takes Over Public Schools Leadership

By Bill Dries

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Since Dorsey Hopson became general counsel for Memphis City Schools in 2008, he has experienced a whirlwind of change.

The Memphis City Council cut funding to the school system triggering a landmark court case, city and county school systems have been on a fast and rocky path to a merger, and the countywide board ballooned to 23 members. And then Hopson found himself in January serving as the interim superintendent of Memphis City Schools.

The changes began just days after Hopson took the general counsel’s job. And Tuesday, March 26, Hopson found himself as the acting superintendent of Shelby County Schools – making him the first superintendent of both school systems and possibly the consolidated school system.

“As long as it’s interim,” Hopson said before the board vote Tuesday, March 26.

“You are not getting a pay raise,” school board Chairman Billy Orgel replied.

Hopson’s ascension to the key day-to-day role in the upcoming merger of the two school systems is one of the surprises of the turbulent and historic period of change public education in Shelby County is in the midst of.

At the first school board meeting since the buyout and departure of Shelby County Schools superintendent John Aitken last week, Hopson stepped up his role and became more vocal in recommendations to the board on the terms of the merger.

“There is not going to be a huge migration of staff. Our goal is to make sure your child has the same or better experience in his or her school this year and next year.”

– Dorsey Hopson

That had been Aitken’s role exclusively following the January board buyout of Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash. With Cash’s departure, Hopson went from general counsel to interim MCS superintendent.

Hopson named a merger cabinet Tuesday that included David Stephens, county schools assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, as his chief of staff and a deputy superintendent. The cabinet was appointed in consultation with Aitken.

In the deputy role, Hopson said Stephens, also the former Bolton High School principal, would work with suburban leaders and parents on the merger transition in those areas of the county.

Hopson said he and his staff will present a budget proposal for the first fiscal year of the schools merger to the board in the next 30 days. And the budget plan will be built on the assumption that the Shelby County Commission will only be able to provide $5 million in new or extra funding to the school system.

Hopson also acknowledged that since Aitken’s buyout, the school systems are working to counter rumors that his departure will mean changes at the school level.

“The attendance zones will not change. School-based personnel will not change. … We met with principals this week to roll out what the staffing policy is. … There is not going to be a huge migration of staff,” Hopson said. “Our goal is to make sure your child has the same or better experience in his or her school this year and next year.”

The board also approved a resolution Tuesday evening asking Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee to delay plans by the Shelby County Commission to appoint six new members to the school board effective Sept. 1. That move would make what would be a smaller seven-member board on that date a 13-member board instead. The board is currently 23 members.

The resolution by school board member David Reaves urges the court to delay the board expansion to 13 until voters select the six new members in the August 2014 county general elections.

School board attorney Valerie Speakman said attorneys for the Shelby County Commission in the federal court case requested some kind of statement from the school board on its opinion of the board expansion.

Attorneys for the suburban towns and cities are expected to tell the court they oppose the expansion.

Rick Masson, the special master appointed this month by Mays to oversee terms of the merger, was at the school board meeting.

“I, of course, will have to speak with the judge on this matter,” Masson told the school board after it approved the Reaves resolution. “I will say that one of the charges he gave me was to promote cooperation among the parties.”

School board member Martavius Jones confirmed he wants one of the six appointments and that, he argued, made the case for moving ahead now. Jones is one of the members of the old MCS board who go off the board on Sept. 1 along with the members of the old Shelby County Schools board.

“If we’re talking about stability, I think having members who currently want to seek appointment to that would create an even greater degree of stability,” Jones said.

“I don’t think anybody going off this board should be reappointed because there are so many preconceived notions,” countered school board member Snowden Carruthers.

School board member Mary Anne Gibson said she has no plans to seek appointment beyond the Sept. 1 date. And she urged keeping a smaller seven-member board.

“I think there is much work to be done,” she said. “The input there is from a 13-member board, I believe that will stymie that work.”

Other board members expressed a concern that a larger board would scare off many sought after applicants for the superintendency of the merged school district.

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