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VOL. 131 | NO. 206 | Friday, October 14, 2016

SCS May Still Pursue East High T-STEM After Missing Out on Grant

By Bill Dries

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Although Shelby County Schools didn’t get a federal grant for a new optional school program at East High, the school system is still likely to continue with the ambitious plan.

Shelby County Schools didn’t make the cut for a federal grant to build a new optional school at East High School. But SCS superintendent Dorsey Hopson has told the SCS board he will probably pursue the plans even without the grant.

(Daily News/Bill Dries)

The SCS grant application to the U.S Department of Education for the Magnet Schools Assistant Program calls for a T-STEM – transportation, science, technology, engineering and math – optional or magnet school at East to replace the engineering optional program that has been in place since 1984.

“Although once a flourishing optional program, East’s engineering program is now very small,” the SCS application reads, counting 35 students enrolled.

Overall, the school was at 28 percent capacity in the 2015-2016 school year – enrolling 556 students in a facility with a capacity of 2,000 – the lowest enrollment since East opened in 1948.

The T-STEM curriculum would focus on Memphis’ dominance as a logistics center, and the Intermodal Freight Transportation Institute at the University of Memphis is part of an “emerging partnership,” according to the school system’s application.

To become part of the proposed program, students “must complete an essay and/or an interview as well as meet specific grade, behavior and attendance standards,” the application reads.

The grants awarded in September ranged from $4.6 million to $11.9 million, each for a three-year period. Four of the grants went to projects in New York City; two to school systems in Florida; and one grant each to New Haven, Connecticut, Rosemount, Minnesota, and San Diego.

Even before the grants were awarded, SCS superintendent Dorsey Hopson told school board members in September that he intended to pursue some kind of overhaul of East High even if the school system didn’t get one of the grants.

SCS board member Teresa Jones, whose district includes East, is scheduled to meet with parents and students Monday, Oct. 17, at 5:30 p.m. at the school.

The 2016 competition puts “an increased emphasis on desegregation-related activities,” according to the grant notice in the Federal Register this past April.

“In this competition, we are particularly interested in projects that seek to improve MSAP outcomes related to minority group isolation and academic achievement by implementing complimentary strategies to increase the socio-economic integration of schools in an effort to eliminate, reduce, or prevent minority group isolation,” the register notice reads.

The optional schools program of the legacy Memphis City Schools system, started in the mid-1980s by then-superintendent Willie Herenton, was intended to reverse white flight from the system that had begun as a reaction to court-ordered busing for racial integration in the 1970s.

In choosing locations for the optional programs, Herenton targeted areas where private, church-based schools had sprung up as a reaction to busing, and many of the private schools folded after several years in operation.

But the program has been criticized by some parents and some school board members in recent years for isolating students in the optional program and creating a school within a school.

The SCS application for the federal grant references that.

“Despite the development of choice and optional programs to eliminate or reduce minority group isolation and to ensure quality options for all students, a significant number of schools are educating students in settings that are racially and socio-economically isolated,” it reads.

The school system noted in its application that East’s current enrollment, both in the engineering optional program and in the school as a whole, is predominantly comprised of African-American students.

“Minority isolation exists at the school,” is the conclusion in the application.

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