Editorial: School System Can’t Settle for Status Quo

Saturday, May 18, 2013, Vol. 6, No. 21

When schools across Shelby County open on Aug. 5, the consolidation of the city and county public school systems will remain a work in progress.

And that is not the way this was supposed to work.

Maybe it was naïve to believe the sentiment expressed over and over that the merger would be about creating a new school system with new expectations and new possibilities.

But settling for clinging to the same school experience does not represent the middle ground in the array of sentiments that most parents have experienced in the last two years.

It may be comforting to parents in some parts of Shelby County. It most certainly is not to parents in other parts of Shelby County.

“Us and them” are still present in our discussion about improving local education.

Fortunately, parents have alternatives that have emerged as pillars of stability despite their newness to Memphis education – charter schools, Achievement School District schools, even private school efforts like Jubilee schools that continue to blur the line between public and private education.

The fact that the countywide public school system must compete against these institutions for students and teachers is the most significant factor in changing the abysmal trajectory of education in our community.

The goal has been for parents to not have to do what they do now – search carefully for not only the right school but the right teachers in the right school and then for several years pray for all of the right things about the school to remain in place and plan for a move if they don’t.

Eliminating that element of education roulette wasn’t going to be done in a single school year. But it was not unreasonable to hope we could at least make some progress toward that goal before the merger.

What has made the difference are the larger education reforms that are not part of the merger and the leaders who emerged from circumstances no one could have foreseen.

In that regard, Dorsey Hopson, the general counsel turned interim superintendent, is the leader the merger needs at this precise moment and for the foreseeable future.

Hopson has not hesitated to remind a too-large school board of the urgency of making decisions. He has made the tough calls including a second tier of school closings that are more in line with the recommendations of the transition planning commission – 12 more schools in the 2014-2015 school year, if the school board will follow through.

The board should also follow through on direct talks with suburban leaders on the terms of the coming separation of the suburbs to municipal school districts.

This isn’t yet a new day for education and that’s disappointing. But the pursuit of that new day shouldn’t end with settling for the status quo on Aug. 5 when the school bells ring. There is still work to be done.