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Shelby County Schools superintendent says closings should help district boost academics

The closure of ten Memphis schools should help the Shelby County Schools improve education for students who have been stuck in underperforming schools, the district’s superintendent Dorsey Hopson said in a press release today.

The district’s board voted Tuesday to approve plans to close 10 schools in Memphis. Thirteen schools had initially been on the chopping block, but the district’s plans were reshaped by a series of community meetings.

Hopson has repeatedly framed the closings as a way for the district to consolidate resources in order to address low performance in the schools, most of which have seen enrollment drop precipitously in recent years. Research on the academic impact of school closures in other cities suggests that improving education will be a challenge.

From the district’s press release:

On February 25, 2014, the Shelby County Board of Education voted in support of 12 recommendations presented by Superintendent Dorsey Hopson to close under-utilized, under-resourced and under-performing schools. The vote aligns with Superintendent Hopson’s commitment to ensuring children in every community have access to the best academic offerings to help them succeed as students, citizens and professionals in the 21st century.

“I firmly believe the decisions we’ve made as a district and Board are in the best interest of students,” Hopson stated. “We have an obligation to give our students the best opportunities to learn and grow, and the truth is we cannot accomplish that in schools that are under-utilized and under-resourced.”

“These decisions were not taken lightly. This was an extremely diligent process,” Hopson said. “We studied each individual situation carefully, and I’m most grateful for the feedback we got from our stakeholders.”

Input from the community was vital to the process and, in fact, led to changes to multiple recommendations: two schools were kept open (Alcy Elementary and Riverview Middle), one decision was delayed a year to allow more time to study alternatives (Northside High) and a resolution was approved to explore the construction of a new school in one community (Westhaven Elementary), which would improve learning for students at three separate schools.

“I recognize this was a tough and emotional process for parents and stakeholders who love their schools, and I’m grateful for their input,” Hopson said. “What it shows is that we have passionate and engaged families. What I’ve said to every community I met with is that our students will need the same type of passion, pride and support at their next school for this to be a success.”

The Superintendent says there is an exciting element to these decisions from an overall teaching and learning standpoint. He points out that welcoming schools have an opportunity to incorporate the best practices and successes of the prior schools, which, undoubtedly, will benefit all students in the school.

The principals and teaching staff at the welcoming schools are excited about 2014-15, as well. They’re working on plans to ensure continuity and a smooth transition for all students.

“A year from now, I want us to look back and be able to say we all did our part – Board Members, district leaders, teachers, families. If we are all active and engaged partners, and we embrace the opportunities we have, our students are going to benefit.”

Here are the district’s most recent plans. You can find more of Chalkbeat’s reporting on the district’s community engagement process and plans for the closings here.

Chalkbeat spoke with WKNO about the superintendent’s hopes for the closings earlier this week.

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