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Brad Leon is chief of strategy and innovation for Shelby County Schools.

Brad Leon is chief of strategy and innovation for Shelby County Schools.

T. Cheshier

Shelby County Schools sets high goal for 2025, but no plan yet

Shelby County Schools administrators plan to ask the school board to endorse the following set of goals at its meeting Tuesday night: By 2025, 80 percent of students will be college-and-career ready, 90 percent of students will graduate high school and 100 percent of those who graduate college-and-career ready will enroll in a post-secondary opportunities. 

Just how it will achieve those goals has yet to be determined. The district plans to have community meetings on May 13 and 15 to discuss the topic, and aims to have a plan in place by Dec. 2014.

Brad Leon, the district’s chief innovation officer, briefed reporters on the plan Tuesday morning. Mark Sturgis, the director of Strive Mid-South, was also present at the meeting. Shelby County Schools is working with Strive to share data with nonprofits in the city that are also hoping to improve outcomes for students and the community.  

The so-called 80-90-100 plan was discussed at the Shelby County Schools board retreat earlier this year.

This year’s first graders are the graduating class of 2025. But Leon said the district’s attempts to meet that goal will benefit older students in the system, too. “You don’t get to that goal without whole-system reform,” he said. “Setting forth the goal anchors the system on where we need to go.”

The new goal is not replacing a specific previous benchmark.

Legacy Memphis City Schools had a 67 percent graduation rate last year. Just 5 percent of graduates were “college-ready” that year, Leon said.

But, he said, dramatic improvement in graduation rates in other cities and states – including New Orleans, New York City, and the state of Kentucky – indicates that such improvement is possible.

Staying true to such long-term goals is a challenge for large urban districts, where superintendent turnover is higher than in average-sized districts. Seventy-one percent of urban superintendents leave their posts within three years, according to a recent study. Though some superintendents “pass the baton” on to their successors, more often new superintendents bring new initiatives and goals.

Leon said Shelby County Schools is partnering with Strive because “the district can’t achieve that result on its own. Two thirds of our kindergartners come in not ready for kindergarten.”

Sturgis told reporters that the district and Strive would help create “institutional pathways and financial support for students.” Leon said improving the schools will have a “multiplier effect” for the community, helping, among other things, to reduce unemployment and crime.

Leon said that the district would put more emphasis on measuring whether students are career-ready. “There are ways to do that,” he said.

When asked what the district will look like in terms of enrollment and number of schools by 2025, as the charter sector grows and the state-run Achievement School District takes over more schools, Leon said, “that’s something our planning process has to look at closely.” 

He said the plan was not motivated by competition from charters and the ASD, but by a board meeting earlier this year at which the superintendent was asked to use data to set goals for the district