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VOL. 130 | NO. 153 | Friday, August 7, 2015

Welcome Back

Memphis-area schools ready for a year without transition

By Bill Dries

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When Shelby County’s public schools open for the first day of the 2015-16 school year, it will mark the first time in three years that there will be no historic, structural changes to the systems themselves.

The new school year begins Monday, Aug. 10, for Shelby County’s public school systems. The last three years have seen historic changes to the overall structure of public education locally, but this year should be quieter.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

Starting with the state-run Achievement School District’s debut in the 2012-13 school year, public education countywide has undergone unprecedented changes.

The ASD opened with takeovers of some of the city’s poorest performing schools.

The next year saw the merger of the county’s two public school systems into one. And that was followed in the 2014-15 school year by the demerger of public education from one school system to seven, including the six suburban districts.

Bartlett City Schools superintendent David Stephens on Behind The Headlines at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 7, on WKNO TV.

“It’s been a couple of years of turmoil,” Bartlett City Schools superintendent David Stephens said on the WKNO TV program “Behind The Headlines,” which airs Friday, Aug. 7.

Stephens was assistant superintendent in the schools merger.

“I think we learned so many lessons through that merger that there were issues that we knew that had to be addressed,” he said. “It really helped us when we started putting these municipal school districts together.”

Stephens is expecting 700 freshmen at Bartlett’s 9th Grade Academy on Monday, which marks the beginning of the institution’s second year.

“Communities don’t like change. So there were a lot of people that were saying they wanted their kids to go to (Bartlett) high school,” Stephens said of the initial hesitancy among some parents. Stephens’ daughter, who enters the academy this year, expressed similar feelings.

“It was great to get the kids as a cohort of students,” he said. “The teachers tell me it’s like working in a small private school. You have this one group of kids, fairly homogeneous group of kids – they are all ninth graders. They are dealing with the same issues. We are able to give them a great foundation.”

Last year at this time, Raleigh Egypt High School principal Bo Griffin got a bracing welcome in his first year at the helm.

Raleigh Egypt High saw a marked improvement in test scores, and avoided a potential ASD takeover, after one year with principal Bo Griffin at the helm.

(Daily News/Bill Dries)

Basketball coach Clarence Stokes died of a heart attack in the school cafeteria the first week of school. And the Achievement School District had the high school on its list for a possible takeover in the 2015-16 school year because of its low student achievement test scores.

Ultimately ASD leaders agreed to give Griffin a chance to executive his plan. And it was in the school’s library last month that Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson announced the school’s students showed enough improvement on the tests to make it ineligible for ASD takeover.

“Our kids are the type of kids that they don’t feel what you have to say until they know you care,” Griffin said. “I’m not doing anything special, just giving young men an opportunity and young ladies an opportunity to be successful but holding them accountable.”

Hopson isn’t counting too much on stability in a six-year journey in which he returned to Memphis as the Memphis City Schools attorney and just before the 2013-14 merger became superintendent. He notes that state standards and tests are about to change again.

“We almost have to start from ground zero all over again,” he said. “But I do think that our team has put together a good blue print for how to move, particularly our students who are way down at the bottom in terms of performance and at least get them on the right trajectory.”

Heidi Ramirez, the school system’s chief academic officer, enters her first full school year in Memphis.

“We’re on good ground. I don’t know every day how solid it is,” she said. “I think we are getting better at pivoting where we need to (so we can) better respond to the needs of our schools and staff.”

Last week, in Whitney Achievement Elementary School’s cafeteria, ASD leaders rallied teachers and principals to mark an improvement for the Frayser Community Schools.

“I love a fight. It’s who I am,” Bobby White, the founder of Martin Luther King College Preparatory School, told the pom-pom waving teachers, who donned T-shirts to show off their schools.

This week marks MLK College Prep’s second year; it operates in the former Frayser High School at 1530 Dellwood Ave.

White had no hesitation in tying the progress of the Frayser schools to the area’s economic comeback.

“I was raised in this community. My parents still live here. My sister owns a beauty shop here. My best friend has a business on Watkins,” said the 1990 graduate of Frayser High. “In 1984 someone said, ‘Don’t send your son to Frayser High School because they won’t challenge him.’ … I’m that guy that nobody really gave a chance.”

ASD superintendent Chris Barbic touted Whitney’s 55 percent math proficiency level in the new test results compared to 18 percent two years ago.

Barbic, who is leaving his position at the end of the calendar year, views the “black and white debate” about what impact poverty has on achievement as something for “think-tank people.”

“Poverty absolutely makes this work harder,” he said. “But it’s absolutely possible.”

PROPERTY SALES 62 288 2,619
MORTGAGES 52 197 1,783