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VOL. 132 | NO. 24 | Thursday, February 2, 2017

Dunbar Elementary Gets Reprieve, But Carnes Closing

By Bill Dries

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Dunbar Elementary School will remain open next August, while Carnes Elementary will close its doors forever at the end of the current school year.

Mike Kernell

 

The Shelby County Schools board voted unanimously Tuesday, Jan. 31, to close Carnes after SCS superintendent Dorsey Hopson withdrew his recommendation to close Dunbar.

Meanwhile, the charter group that runs Martin Luther King Jr. College Preparatory High School got the green light Tuesday from the state-run Achievement School District to run Humes Preparatory School in the new school year.

Hopson said he moved to keep Dunbar open after a large turnout from Orange Mound residents at community meetings on the closing proposal.

“It’s the actions behind the words that peaked my interest,” Hopson said of the “groundswell of support” for the school.

“This is not just an emotional decision,” he added. “Achievement at Dunbar is still very low.”

Hopson and his staff are pursuing a $150,000 grant that could be used at Dunbar to improve student achievement and intervention with students who are behind academically. He also instructed his staff to set milestones for improving student achievement at Dunbar “over the next few years” with objectives the school system will be monitoring.

The move to close Carnes and send its students to Downtown and Bruce elementary schools came with less reaction from that community.

Hopson said the school is “significantly under-enrolled and the building has a significant amount of repairs that need to be done.”

SCS board member Mike Kernell said Carnes’ proximity to Interstate 40 is “not every conducive to having a neighborhood school to walk to.”

“The noise is incredible,” he said of the impact of the interstate that bisects the Downtown neighborhood. “I don’t think that school should be there one block downwind from the expressway.”

Board member Billy Orgel urged the school system to consider an adapative reuse of the newer parts of Carnes, including the center of the school between its two older wings.

The area around the school includes large gaps of vacant lots on streets once lined with single-family homes. The area east of Danny Thomas Boulevard is included in a city plan connected to the redevelopment of a nine-block area between the Pyramid and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

The Carnes area would be included in an expanded tax increment financing district the administration of Mayor Jim Strickland is about to seek. Revenue from the TIF would be used to build new affordable housing in the corridor between St. Jude and Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.

Board member Kevin Woods also asked for information about how many children the school system retains when decisions are made to close schools.

“We’ve got to make sure this disruption does not lead us to lose students,” he said. “Starting today, the effort begins to make sure these kids stay with Shelby County Schools.”

In other plans for the 2017-2018 school year, the ASD announced Tuesday that Frayser Community Schools, the Memphis-based charter operator, will operate Humes starting in August.

FCS has operated MLK Prep in Frayser since the 2014-2015 school year. It applied to operate Humes, a middle school, after Gestalt Community Services, another Memphis-based charter company, announced in October it would pull out of Humes and nearby Klondike Elementary at the end of the current school year. Gestalt leaders cited low enrollment at both inner-city schools.

Gestalt continues to operate the Power Center Academy schools in Hickory Hill, which are not part of the Achievement School District, a state-run school system for the bottom 5 percent of schools in Tennessee in terms of student achievement.

FCS was founded by Bobby White, a veteran educator and principal in the old Memphis school system who was a leader of the Tennessee Charter School Resource Center. White is a former principal of Westside Middle School and is an alum of the former Frayser High School that is now MLK Prep.

No charter organization applied to run Klondike, so ASD officials have decided to close Klondike at the end of the current school year. The school will not revert back to Shelby County Schools.

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