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VOL. 130 | NO. 191 | Thursday, October 1, 2015

Hopson Calls Off Hillcrest-Whitehaven Merger For Now

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson is calling off a plan to merge Hillcrest High School into Whitehaven High School and turn Hillcrest into a ninth grade academy.


Hopson told school board members Tuesday, Sept. 29, that the school system will wait to see if the state-run Achievement School District matches Hillcrest with a charter school operator and takes it into the ASD next school year.

Hillcrest is in the bottom 5 percent of Tennessee schools based on student achievement. It’s on ASD’s short list for a possible takeover in the 2016-17 school year.

When Hopson announced last month that he was considering an alternate plan that would keep Hillcrest in SCS, it was the latest difference of opinion between the two school systems.

But Hopson and his staff heard from some parents concerned about putting Whitehaven and Hillcrest students into a single school.

And several SCS board members said Tuesday evening that the process for deciding which failing schools go into the Achievement School District and which stay in the SCS as Innovation Zone schools should be better defined.

Tennessee law created the ASD and I-Zone to address failing schools. The Achievement School District has the power to take over a school without the consent of a local school system.

But Hopson and ASD superintendent Chris Barbic have set up an informal selection process, which still includes disagreements.

The ASD originally wanted to take Raleigh-Egypt High School last school year as Hopson assigned the school a new principal, with a goal of improving the school’s performance while keeping it within SCS.

Barbic backed away from a takeover and Raleigh-Egypt High improved its performance enough to come off ASD’s list.


School board member Stephanie Love called for a five-year strategic plan to map out which groups will handle the remaining failing schools that aren’t currently part of ASD or I-Zone.

“I think we do need to have a real conversation about schools that are underutilized, a real conversation about schools that we think we could possibly merge,” she said, including discussions with parents of school-age children in the Foote Homes public housing development.

The city just this week received a $30 million federal grant to demolish the city’s last large housing project, which will involve moving residents out as the area is redeveloped.

“Once we get everything situated and we have control, then we can start teaching our children without interruption,” Love said.

Hopson agreed with the call for a long-term strategy that must consider the impact of the ASD on the SCS system’s flow of state revenue.

The state’s per pupil funding moves with the students as they attend ASD schools, currently to the tune of $77 million, according to Hopson.

At the end of its five years of taking on bottom 5 percent, ASD will decide – with parental approval and petition – which of the schools will remain with charter operators or other organizations long term and which will go back to SCS.

“There are so many factors that just aren’t in our control,” Hopson said.

He has asked the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has funded the school system’s teacher effectiveness strategies and programs, to reallocate some of the funding to provide a three- to five-year financial forecast for Shelby County Schools.

Barbic has said the ASD has just reached the point where it should begin to come up with its own long-term plan beyond the five-year cycle of state legislation that authorized it.

In some cases, the ASD has called for a phased-in takeover of schools, a grade or two per school year.

Hopson and the board ended that practice, saying it created too many problems to operate two different schools in the same building.

Shelby County Schools adopted a policy of closing schools proposed for that kind of takeover and then zoning the students in the grades not affected by the ASD conversion to a nearby conventional school until they were to become part of the conversion.

The students in those cases have an option to remain in their new conventional school or go to the ASD school.

“Ultimately we are going to have to go to Nashville and say enough is enough,” said school board member Kevin Woods, one of several board members who argued that the legislation creating the Achievement School District should be changed.

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