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School closings on agenda for Shelby County board’s working session Wednesday

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II, center, with Shelby County school board president Kevin Woods, left, and board member Billy Orgel, right.
Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson aims to increase the district's four-year graduation rate from 75 percent to 90 percent by 2025.
Kyle Kurlick

Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey E. Hopson II will present his recommendations to the district’s board about which schools should be closed at a work session Wednesday.

The district is planning to close as many as 13 schools before the 2014-15 school year, citing a combination of underenrollment, low academic performance, and deteriorating facilities. Hopson and other district officials have said they hope to be able to consolidate resources and improve education for students after schools are closed.

Hopson’s recommendations are highly anticipated: Many Memphians have rallied in order to “save” their schools from being closed since Hopson announced the list of planned closures in December. Community members have attended the recent board meetings and a series of meetings at nine of the affected schools to hear and contest the plans. They say the closings will devastate low-income, majority-black communities and students in Memphis; some are likely to attend tomorrow’s work session. Alcy Elementary, Northside High, Westhaven Elementary, and several other school communities have presented the district with plans that include efforts to improve literacy and alternate zoning options they hope will stave off the closures.

After speaking at an event at Cane Creek Baptist Church last Thursday, superintendent Hopson said it is possible that not all 13 schools on the original list will be closed.

It is also not clear how board members will vote next week, regardless of the recommendations: Board member Shante Avant said last week she does not believe that all 13 of the schools should be closed, and Teresa Jones has repeatedly told audiences that she has not decided how she will vote.

Shelby County Schools will definitely stop running four of the schools next year: Klondike Elementary School, Shannon Elementary School, and Cypress Middle School are all in buildings that will host schools run as part of the state-run Achievement School District next year, and Corry Middle School is being run by KIPP Memphis. The district has also proposed using other empty buildings as charter schools, a plan that has raised the hackles of some who contend the publicly-funded, independently-run charter schools are part of an effort to “privatize” public schools. But that plan may reassure other community members who are wary of empty buildings serving as eyesores or hubs for crime.

No concrete plans for the buildings can be made for the other nine schools until after the board votes on which schools will be closed, according to chief of staff Reginald Porter.

The merged Shelby County school district is facing an increasingly complex educational landscape: A growing charter school sector and the state-run Achievement School District are educating a growing portion of public school students in Memphis, and the district could lose more than 20,000 students to new municipal districts next year. Those changes, coupled with demographic trends, have left Shelby County Schools with many schools holding far fewer students than they were intended for. The district is also grappling with a budget gap and is under pressure to improve its large number of low-performing schools.

The board will vote on the proposed closings on Feb. 25.

The board will meet at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the district’s headquarters.

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