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VOL. 132 | NO. 154 | Friday, August 4, 2017

New Academic Year Brings Changes, Familiar Issues

By Bill Dries

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The school year for most students in Shelby County begins Monday, Aug. 7. But teachers and school administrators mentally remain at least a few weeks ahead, if not more – a permanent condition for educators.

A teacher at Treadwell Elementary assists the Menchacha family as they register for school during Gear Up 4 School Day on Tuesday, Aug. 1.  (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson is already looking ahead to September when school districts across the state get test scores from the TNReady student achievement tests taken in the 2016-2017 school year.

“This is the first year that we have a full complement of test results,” Hopson said Wednesday, Aug. 2, referring to the incomplete results received the previous year, when testing problems meant no scores for elementary school students.

“What we know is that, as with all states that implement new and higher standards, the test scores are going to go down and then they start to go up,” he said.

As of Wednesday, about 56,000 students had registered for classes in Shelby County Schools, the state’s largest public school system by enrollment. That’s more than half of the 96,000 expected and about 8,000 more than this time last year as SCS continues to battle the longstanding practice of some parents registering children on the first day of classes.

By opening day a year ago, SCS had 74,000 students registered before the first day, indicating a lot of momentum going into the last weekend of the summer for students.

SCS leaders are still gauging how raids by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in Memphis last week will impact registration and enrollment.

ICE officials said this week they arrested 83 immigrants in Memphis and two other cities – New Orleans and Nashville – who had been targeted in the operation. Of the 83, 64 had violated civil immigration law but had no criminal history. The agency didn’t break down how many were detained in Memphis.

Officials with the Mexican consulate were at Belle Forest Community School Tuesday to talk with families about that and other recurring issues. The consulate usually visits Memphis schools twice a year.

Shelby County Schools has a block party scheduled for Saturday at the Shelby County Board of Education, 160 S. Hollywood St., for parents to register children and get immunizations as well as free school supplies and free vision and hearing screenings.

What’s new, what’s next

A family begins the registration process at Treadwell Elementary during Gear Up 4 School Day on Tuesday, Aug. 1, where students were able to register for school, show proof of immunization, pick up class supply lists and sign up for clubs. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

The newest school in Shelby County is Lakeland Middle Preparatory School, which had its formal opening last Sunday with a larger-than-expected crowd of parents. Six hundred students in grades 5-8 are expected for Monday’s first day of class in the $20 million facility.

The campus has room for a high school, and Lakeland Mayor Wyatt Bunker says the high school is “priority No. 1” for the city’s board of commissioners and its school board.

“You can only imagine as this city grows in so many other ways including a high school, the energy it’s going to bring to Lakeland,” Bunker said. “I believe Lakeland is going to be the destination of choice in the next few years for people who live in Shelby County.”

Bunker also talked about economic development projects, including the 160-acre, mixed-use Lake District development, which could be moving dirt by the end of 2017 with a construction contract likely to be awarded next month. A town-square-type development at Seed Tick and Memphis-Arlington roads could also spur the kind of sales tax revenue to at least help finance the high school project.

“We are going to build that high school and we are not going to raise taxes,” Bunker said.

Meanwhile, among the other suburban school systems, the $90 million Collierville High School remains under construction.

The Germantown Municipal School District’s expansion of Riverdale Elementary is ready for students in what the school system terms a state-of-the-art addition with unique learning spaces, digital network infrastructure for a one-to-one computer initiative and a new visual arts facility.

And Bartlett City Schools is in the midst of hiring a construction manager, the latest step in a reconfiguration of the Bartlett High campus over several years.

At Memphis University School, the new academic year begins Aug. 14 after a week of in-service training for teachers at the independent private school for boys. The academic year is the first for headmaster Peter D. Sanders, who succeeds Ellis Haguewood. Haguewood retired this past May after being headmaster at MUS for 22 years.

And at Hutchison School, Kristen Ring becomes head of school, succeeding Annette Smith, who has retired after being head of the private girls school for 17 years.

Freedom Preparatory Academy opens its third campus at Millbranch Road and Interstate 55 in Whitehaven, with a charter school for students in grades K-3 and 6-7.

Meanwhile, Shelby County Schools’ Whitehaven Empowerment Zone, a cluster of schools with a common curriculum around a more coordinated transition of students from elementary to middle to high school, is in its second year.

Holmes Road Elementary joins Havenview Middle in the zone, which is overseen by Whitehaven High principal Vincent Hunter and his staff and is expanding to include more schools over several academic years. Other schools that move closer to coming fully into the zone in future years are Robert R. Church and Manor Lake elementary schools and A. Maceo Walker Middle.

Hopson plans to submit an application to the state for federal funding and assistance for the zone under the Every Student Succeeds Act once the state and SCS leaders know the specific plan for ESSA funding.

After the first school year, Hopson said the need anticipated in the set of schools became more specific.

“They had no idea just the extraordinarily high number of kids who were in special needs and the extraordinary number of kids who are what we call ‘overage for grade,’” he said. “Just the intense support and the different thinking and different supports that you need to address those two groups of students – they knew, but now I think they know-know.”

Hopson talks charters, ASD

On another front, Hopson said the school system’s relationship with charter schools is “evolving.”

“The board is not anti-charter schools in any respect. … I think the focus for me and the board is we just want good schools,” Hopson said. “We have a lot of schools that operate here that do well, but then we have a lot that don’t. The frustrating part for me is really the utter lack of clear regulations for charter schools.”

Some of that he attributes to a state law governing charter schools written in 2001 with a few amendments since then, like removing the cap on the number of charters.

“I’m sure that no one could contemplate that there would be 70 charter schools and they would be here in Shelby County,” he added. “I hope that the whole schools community in Shelby County can start to focus on quality. We’ve closed close to 30 schools over the past few years. And the driver for that has been quality along with other issues. … I don’t see a lot of focus on quality. It seems to be quantity is what most of the discussion is on.”

SCS’ relationship with the state-run Achievement School District is a different matter in Hopson’s view.

“We’re not really sure what the long-term vision is anymore,” he said of changes under ESSA that block an immediate takeover of a school that’s newly added to the failing schools list, which had been the criteria for an ASD takeover. He also pointed to the ASD’s pull-out at Klondike Elementary in North Memphis, caused by charter operator Gestalt Community Schools’ decision to withdraw from that school and Humes Middle, citing low enrollment at each.

Gestalt made the announcement near the start of the previous school year.

Humes will remain in the ASD fold with Frayser Community Schools, the charter organization that operates Martin Luther King Jr. College Prep High School, taking over there effective Monday.

However, the ASD could find no charter operator to take over operations at Klondike. Those students begin the school year Monday at Vollentine Elementary, a conventional SCS school with an optional program.

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