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VOL. 133 | NO. 82 | Tuesday, April 24, 2018

I-Zone Chief Griffin Named Head of State-Run School District

By Bill Dries

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Sharon Griffin in the new leader of the state-run Achievement School District effective in late May after being chief of schools for Shelby County Schools and before that leading the SCS Innovation Zone schools. (Ziggy Mack)

The chief of schools for Shelby County Schools who was the founding director of Innovation Zone Schools is the new leader of the state-run Achievement School District.

Sharon Griffin was named Tuesday, April 24, as head of the turnaround district for some of the state’s lowest performing schools academically by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Education Commission Candice McQueen.

In the move from SCS to state government, Griffin also becomes assistant commissioner of school turnaround, joining the senior leadership team of the state department as part of a new Office of School Improvement.

Griffin will join the state in late May and will be based in Memphis. Most of the schools in the ASD are in Memphis.

Griffin's choice was a surprise, state education officials had a list for four semifinalists, all from outside Memphis, that were under consideration. Some came to Memphis to meet with parents and community leaders in areas where the ASD has schools.

McQueen said Griffin was also a semifinalist at the time but her name was not made public because of the "sensitivity" of her position with Shelby County Schools. McQueen also said she heard "loud and clear" in the community meetings that parents and others felt the next leader of the ASD should be from Memphis or move to Memphis.

Of the 32 schools in the ASD all but two are in Memphis.

"She was certainly recruited for the job but also had an interest in the job," McQueen said.

Griffin is a 25-year veteran educator who shaped the Shelby County School’s Innovation Zone Schools into a turnaround effort that outperformed the ASD schools taken over by the state.

In a conference call Tuesday with McQueen, she downplayed the competition between the two and emphasized changes in the relationship with the ESSA standards. 

"We are not enemies," she said of SCS and the ASD. "And I want to make sure this role bridges that gap."

"They believe we need to accelerate academic growth for all students," Griffin said of the state. "I know this is a critical role. I can't wait to get started."

The I-Zone school model gets the same state resources ASD schools do without charter organizations running the schools.

Griffin became chief of schools last year as SCS leaders broadened the school system’s turnaround efforts beyond the I-Zone into other innovations.

As that was happening, the ASD was also changing and moving away from its earlier model of taking over schools in the bottom five percent of schools statewide in terms of academic achievement. 

Under the recent federal Every Student Succeeds Act, local school systems are given several academic years to turnaround a failing school before it is considered for a takeover by the state.

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