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VOL. 9 | NO. 39 | Saturday, September 24, 2016

Editorial: Neighborhood Schools And The Choices We Make

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For Memphians of a certain age, the phrase “neighborhood schools” conjures images of yellow yard signs reading “Happiness is a neighborhood school.”

It calls to mind resistance to court-ordered busing and massive white flight.

To still other Memphians, neighborhood schools mean a simpler time in which they walked to a school they had known as long as the friends they walked with, all cares and problems wiped from the memory of the journey.

Whichever version you choose, the concept of the neighborhood school is becoming as distant as the red, one-room schoolhouse.

A school for every enclave, placed just a few miles apart, isn’t practical or feasible any more. That could change if the city becomes denser. But we are in the midst of a profound change in the places we choose to live, or, for some of us, have had to live.

That resetting of the map of Memphis isn’t done by any means, and it is still too early to tell if noble intentions will match the ultimate reality.

But our schools are the tip of the spear in many ways.

School choice used to mean an optional schools program of some kind.

Parents today can and do choose different school systems, standalone charters or private schools.

Schools continue to be important in building communities. But they can’t remain for the sake of nostalgia or as some kind of monolithic talisman whose mere physical presence keeps the area safe.

If that were the case, children in some parts of our city wouldn’t have to walk past decay, neglect and danger, as they do now, to get to what is essentially an outpost or fortress. It’s what is left of the concept of a “neighborhood school.” And the neighborhood school, in truth and in image, was never intended to take on all of the problems outside its doors.

The answer is not a school for every three or four subdivisions. Our children live in a larger world with bigger communities where isolation is not an attribute.

Collierville is building a single high school for the town that, with 3,000 students, will be large even by the standards of the legacy Shelby County Schools system. It belies the notion of a quaint school district where a return to the past is the way forward.

Meanwhile, the Whitehaven Empowerment Zone links five elementary and middle schools in the general area to Whitehaven High without regard to geography.

The coalition is based on the hard-won academic success of the high school and its ability to bring up the five other schools, all of which are struggling academically to varying degrees.

What has grown in the historic changes to education we’ve seen in the last six years is our concept of community.

The concept is a result as much as it is a place. With better results our sense of place can grow with our abundance.

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 76 133 1,342
MORTGAGES 83 131 1,047
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 11 162
BUILDING PERMITS 0 87 2,838
BANKRUPTCIES 39 73 691
BUSINESS LICENSES 0 10 286
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0