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VOL. 131 | NO. 258 | Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Change Defines Education Landscape in 2016

By Bill Dries

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By the time Rhodes College trustees made their choice in December of Marjorie Hass as the college’s new president, higher education in Memphis had been through quite a few changes.

Hass succeeds William Troutt, president of Rhodes for the last 18 years.

At year’s end, Marjorie Hass was named the new president of Rhodes College, marking a series of leadership changes in the last three years at three of the city’s four higher education institutions.


She becomes the third new leader of the four Memphis institutions in three years, giving Christian Brothers University president John Smarrelli the most seniority at eight years.

And Smarrelli talked in November of figuratively “blowing up” CBU’s college of education as part of a $70 million capital campaign in which the oldest building on campus – Kenrick Hall – has already been demolished to make way for a new arts center opening in early 2017.

“Scores just came out statewide and teacher training programs aren’t doing what they say they are doing,” he told The Daily News Editorial Board. “We will create a project-based learning, teacher-training program here on the CBU campus.”

That will extend to the neighboring Middle College High School and plans for a new Crosstown High School.

Southwest Tennessee Community College president Tracy Hall, at the year-and-a-half mark in her tenure, called faculty and staff together in October at the Macon Cove campus and declared there will be change.

She said the community college still is divided between the old State Technical Institute and Shelby State Community College that merged in 2000 to form SWTCC. She also complained that students were sent on “journeys of confusion,” with different answers to their questions given depending on whom they talked to.

“We send our kids all around and then we scratch our heads,” Hall told the gathering in October. “We have no idea why our kids aren’t successful.”

Across town at LeMoyne-Owen College, the city’s historically black college, president Andrea Lewis Miller began 2016 talking about LeMoyne-Owen being more than a liberal arts college and aligning its programming with the needs of business and industry. It was a common theme enforced by historic changes at the state level.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, with the approval of the state Legislature, gave the University of Memphis and the five other state colleges and universities their own separate boards – not including the University of Tennessee system, which already has its own board. The Board of Regents still governs the state’s community colleges and Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology. State funding for the four-year schools and coordination of their separate plans will come through the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

Meanwhile, the city’s largest higher-education institution, the University of Memphis, rolled out new plans for south of the railroad tracks as it continued to partner in private development that is booming on the Highland Avenue border of the campus.

The school’s new eight-member independent board was in place by year’s end.

The changes in higher education in 2016 were significant, but largely within a predetermined framework.

2016 was another year of change in classrooms across Shelby County, from a disastrous rollout of new state achievement tests to a Whitehaven Empowerment Zone to a freeze on new schools in the Achievement School District.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

Memphis K-12 public education got much of the attention in 2016 for ongoing changes that were more seismic and in some cases, fitful.

That was the case with the new state achievement tests and their flawed rollout across Tennessee. The state cancelled achievement tests for grades 3-8 to try again this year with a new test vendor after the online only tests didn’t show up online.

The timing of the problem was critical since the state was resetting the baseline for student achievement and growth with new, higher standards for all students. End-of-course high school exams were taken, leading to an amended two-year setting of the new baseline.

The most immediate fallout from the testing mess was a moratorium on new schools for the state-run Achievement School District in the 2017-2018 school year.

The moratorium – which followed several years in which the ASD faced increasingly vocal opposition in the communities where they picked failing schools to take over – seemed to be another indication of larger problems in the ASD.

The first achievement test results under the old standards two years ago showed Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone schools outperforming the ASD schools. That was also the case in the end-of-course exam results using the new tests and standards.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in 2016 that the ASD needed to work harder within the communities whose schools it took over.

At year’s end, McQueen rolled out a “Tennessee Succeeds” plan that calls for schools new to the failing list to be exempt from an ASD takeover, instead giving the original school district four years to turn the school around before it becomes ASD eligible.

Meanwhile, one of the charter operators working with the ASD – Gestalt Community Schools – announced it was pulling out of two takeover schools in North Memphis at the end of the current school year – Klondike and Humes – because of low enrollment.

As the ASD searched for other charter organizations to step in at those two schools, the KIPP organization announced it was closing down a middle school in southwest Memphis that was a startup new ASD school, also because of low enrollment.

SCS superintendent Dorsey Hopson proposed closing seven schools and building three new ones in the latest tier of his attempt to right-size a school system that has 25,000 more seats than students. His proposal covers all of Memphis and unincorporated Shelby County.

SCS has closed 20 schools in the three previous years.

The current school year saw the debut of the Whitehaven Empowerment Zone, a network of five middle and elementary schools on the cusp of being in the state’s bottom 5 percent, with Whitehaven High School and its principal, Vincent Hunter, overseeing a common curriculum and intervention methods in the five schools.

The third school year of the six suburban school systems has been dominated by construction plans. Collierville Schools broke ground in the summer for the $90 million Collierville High School. With capacity for 3,000 students, it is set to open in August 2018.

Germantown Schools officials are exploring a new elementary school as the new year arrives. They and city leaders in Germantown were still pursuing the option of buying Germantown Middle School from SCS – but those talks were not making much progress up to Christmas. The talks may continue, but the Germantown school system is poised to move ahead with the new school.

Lakeland officials are moving ahead with a planned Lakeland middle school to go with its elementary school.

Bartlett Schools don’t have any expansion plans like those, but the Bartlett High campus is now home to a new training center for the medical device industry that was launched in 2016.

The machine tool technology workroom is a makeover of the high school’s old shop room. And Tennessee Board of Regents vice chancellor James King said there is funding on the way for a second training center in Shelby County.

PROPERTY SALES 57 280 1,209
MORTGAGES 55 244 916
BUILDING PERMITS 158 699 2,751