School Transitions

2014 wraps up historic year of education changes

By Bill Dries

In the uniquely timed world of education, a year can be defined several ways, and while one of those years is underway, planning for the next one has already begun.

Bailey Station Elementary School students Alex Dupuy and Olivia Cyrus in Casey Guyette’s third grade class. Bailey Station is one of several schools in the new Collierville district.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

By the calendar year, 2014 has been a dizzying array of historic moments and transitions.

It began with the second semester of the first and only school year of the merger of public education in Shelby County, and it ends with the first semester completed of the demerger into seven school systems.

Five of the six suburban schools superintendents reported for their first day of work Jan. 7 as the only employees of their respective school systems with a desk, a phone and a computer.

Millington superintendent David Roper, the only suburban superintendent who did not come from the ranks of Memphis City Schools or Shelby County Schools, started his job about a week later.

All six of the new school districts opened eight months later, along with a reconfigured Shelby County Schools system that consisted of all of Memphis and the unincorporated parts of the county.

At the end of 2013, the suburbs and Shelby County Schools leaders settled their differences on the turnover of the schools themselves to the new systems. And Shelby County Schools kept four schools within the boundaries of Germantown and Millington to meet its future needs in the ongoing shift of the school-age population to the eastern parts of the county.

Keeping Lucy Elementary School in Millington provoked little controversy, but keeping the “three G’s,” as they are known – Germantown Elementary, Middle and High – remained controversial even after all sides signed the legal papers making it official.

It became a major theme in the 2014 Germantown municipal elections. At year’s end, there remains sentiment for and debate within the suburb’s political community about possibly seeking to add the three schools to Germantown Municipal Schools in future years.

The demerger brought more boundary changes for attendance zones to specific schools within all seven systems.

Attendance zones in the only school year of the merger remained virtually the same as they had been with a Memphis City Schools system and a Shelby County Schools system.

But that had to change with the demerger as the suburban systems each had a new obligation to the children living within their borders, and then to children outside their borders who may have attended those schools before the split.

The significant shift in borders was eased somewhat by open enrollment and hardship transfers if there was room in a school. In the process, some schools reconfigured their grade range.

Within the newly configured Shelby County Schools system, similar shifts were required for students in the unincorporated county who had previously attended schools within the suburban towns and cities.

SCS Superintendent Dorsey Hopson also began the calendar year by recommending to the school board in February the closure of up to 13 schools in Memphis. The board approved 10 as Hopson changed his recommendation on closing Northside High, Alcy Elementary and Riverview Middle.

In June, the school board extended Hopson’s contract as superintendent through June of 2018, a two-year extension to his original three-year contract.

In August, he restructured the management of the school district, replacing the set of regional superintendents with three associate superintendents whose duties were divided among schools, academics and schools operations instead of north, south, east and west. By year’s end, he had made a long-awaited hire of a chief academic officer for the school system to whom those three associate superintendents would report.

He hired Heidi Ramirez, who had been chief academic officer for Milwaukee Public Schools and before that founding director of Temple University’s Urban Education Collaborative in Philadelphia and associate dean of Temple’s College of Education.

Also during the calendar year, new state achievement test results for students shuffled the state’s ranking of failing schools. The result was 10 Memphis schools in the bottom 5 percent two years ago rose out of the bottom grouping, whose schools are eligible for a state takeover as part of the Achievement School District or inclusion in the Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Schools district.

The I-Zone schools outperformed the ASD schools in Memphis in terms of gains on the tests.

ASD schools that had been phased-in takeovers across several years showed larger gains in student achievement than the all-at-once takeover schools.

Meanwhile, ASD superintendent Chris Barbic and his staff encountered vocal resistance that used the achievement test results in a more organized opposition to new schools, particularly charter-run schools, slated for the Achievement School District.