VOL. 133 | NO. 156 | Wednesday, August 8, 2018
American Way Middle Makes Debut as an I-Zone School
By Bill Dries
It may have been inevitable that American Way Middle School would be on the schedule of Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson to visit on the first day of the school year.
Earlier this year, state education officials wanted the grade 6-8 Parkway Village school turned over to the state-run Achievement School District or SCS to approve a charter to turn around the low-performing school.
That could be an option still in the 2019-2020 school year. But for this school year, Hopson, with the approval of the SCS board, instead made it an Innovation Zone school. The designation means the school will remain in the SCS system but with a new principal, some new faculty and extra funding for rapid intervention with students falling behind.
“If the time comes where we sit down with the state and say let’s work this through, I think at the end of the day we have a strong record of success in the I-Zones,” Hopson said after touring several classrooms at the school.
He noted that in the most recent TNReady student achievement results the I-Zone schools continue to outperform the ASD with the gap widening.
Between school years, Sharon Griffin, who headed the I-Zone effort for SCS before becoming chief of schools in the system, was picked by the state to be the new leader of the ASD.
“I think that the state and their strategy is somewhat in flux,” Hopson said referring to Griffin’s new role as well as “data challenges” in TNReady testing and the election of a new Tennessee governor in November who may make changes in the ASD.
“We’re going on about our business and not thinking about the state,” he said.
School board member Miska Clay-Bibbs, whose district includes American Way Middle School, says new leadership at the school should make a difference.
“Standards have changed – science, literacy and math – and making sure teachers are prepared for our kids to be engaged and we have put a lot of investment this past budget cycle to do that for them,” she said. “I plan to see growth without a doubt.”
Clay-Bibbs and Hopson stressed the need for schools that meet the socio-economic needs of students as well as where they are academically.
During their school tour on Monday, both got a look at some of the issues children bring to school with them.
In a hallway and two classrooms, as Hopson and other school system officials were followed by television and cameras, some Hispanic students hid their faces.
“I have heard of a couple of schools where principals had to go out and meet with some families and reassure people that school is still a safe place,” Hopson said. “It’s really disheartening that a kid has to be concerned with – ‘If I go to school is something going to happen.’ …. We don’t really have a way to gauge the impact of that right now.
“But I think in the days ahead we’ll be able to determine what, if any, impact there is.”
Hopson’s first thought on seeing the reaction by the students was that it was a reaction to enforcement of Trump administration immigration policies by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents across the country.
“The reality is that’s where we are in our public policy now,” he said. “So we are going to do all that we can to make kids feel welcome, to make families feel welcome and to reassure people that if you come to school our interest is in making sure that you are safe and education, not all of the rest of the rigmarole that going on here – not just here in Memphis and Shelby County but throughout the country.”
Clay-Bibbs noted that some African-American students in the hallway had the same reaction to the cameras, saying it can also be a result of constantly seeing and having negative images of themselves.