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Hopson wants to expand iZone, board member seeks ASD moratorium

American Way Middle School students protested during Tuesday night's Shelby County School Board business meeting. More than 20 people signed up for public comment with the majority opting to speak against the Achievement School District's takeover process.
American Way Middle School students protested during Tuesday night's Shelby County School Board business meeting. More than 20 people signed up for public comment with the majority opting to speak against the Achievement School District's takeover process.
Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN

In response to the state’s steady takeover of Memphis schools, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said Tuesday night that he would propose expanding his own turnaround efforts known as the iZone, and the school board’s chairwoman said she would push for a legislative moratorium on the Achievement School District’s expansion.

The district’s iZone has regularly outperformed the Achievement School District, a state-run district targeted at moving the bottom 5 percent of schools into the top 25 percent. A full third of the district is eligible to be taken over by the state in the next three years. ASD officials are currently working to determine which seven schools they will hand over to a handful of charter schools next year.

Hopson’s and board Chairwoman Teresa Jones’ comments came shortly after more than 20 parents and teachers accused board members of allowing schools to be taken over by the state and charter schools.

“It’s time for you guys to do your jobs,” said Kenneth Ingram, a parent at American Way Middle School. “Put a stop to this. Another charter school coming from another state and taking over our school? We’re not going to allow that to happen. Please do your job.”

Neither the board nor the Shelby County Schools administration has legal control over the Achievement School District’s takeovers of low-performing public schools, Hopson and board members repeatedly reminded the public Tuesday. The takeover process has led to contentious protests at several community meetings this week.

Hopson said he will propose to board members in the coming weeks closing several schools and merging them into one school that would join the iZone. Similar to charter schools, iZone schools are given waivers from state laws, require teachers to reapply for their jobs, and receive extra resources to try innovative strategies to improve test scores. Unlike charter schools, the iZone schools remain under district control.

“We’ve been kicking around some numbers and without any extra money, we would look at combining two or three schools and bring them in the iZone,” Hopson said. “That would take a few more low-performing schools out of play (for ASD takeover). At the end of the day, though it’s about what is going to be best for the kids.”

Over the summer, board members and district administrators debated inconclusively whether to turn several iZone schools over to charter organizations after federal grant money the district depended on ran out. Hopson said earlier this month that he’s adamantly opposed to turning over existing iZone schools over to charter organizations.

Some board members asked why the district would employ a strategy that’s proven ineffective for the Achievement School District.

ASD’s results have been mixed since it began taking over schools and handing them over to charter schools three years ago. With a new school board and superintendent in place, what schools need now is stability, not more upheaval, Jones, the board chairwoman, said.

Jones said she wants to push for legislation that would put a moratorium on the ASD’s expansion until its schools show improved test scores.

“The ASD does not have a magic bullet,” she said.

On Tuesday, a day before more community meetings regarding the takeover process were to take place, Hopson told the public that he doesn’t agree with some of the ASD officials’ choices on which schools to take over. Some of the schools, such as Raleigh Egypt High School, he said, have recently gotten new principals and showed growth last year. He also expressed sympathy for teachers, who have helped organize several of the protests.

“They have to continue the school year with this cloud over their heads that they know they’ll be looking for a job next year,” he said.

Hopson will meet with state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman Wednesday and plans to discuss the ASD takeover process.

“I’d like some guidance and the rules and regulations as it relates to the ASD,” Hopson said. “If they’re going to pick schools, they should start from the bottom and have clear, consistent efforts by charters to connect with the communities they want and bring them to the table.”

Elliot Smalley, the chief of staff for the Achievement School District said Tuesday that he remains commited to working with SCS on the takeover process.

“We have built a strong working relationship with Dorsey and his team and jointly developed this year’s criteria for school matching, adding factors like recent growth and whether schools were on the priority list for the second time,” Smalley said. “The ASD and SCS have partnered on multiple fronts to improve education across Memphis and even if we have different perspectives on occasion, we’re going to continue to approach this work with a spirit of honesty, collaboration and urgency.”

For more information on the takeover process, visit our interactive page here.

Tajuana Cheshier contributed to this story.

Contact Daarel Burnette II at dburnette@chalkbeat.org or 901-260-3705.

Follow us on Twitter: @Daarel, @chalkbeattn.

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