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Shelby County board extends Hopson’s contract, shares first evaluation

Distribution of New Seats by Borough
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has overseen Shelby County Schools since the 2013 merger of Memphis City Schools and the legacy Shelby County district.
Kyle Kurlick

The Shelby County school board extended superintendent Dorsey Hopson II’s contract for an additional two years after sharing their positive evaluation of his performance during a board meeting on Monday.

The decision to renew Hopson’s contract was both a signal of the board’s confidence in Hopson and a commitment to focus on academics in the coming school year, said board member Teresa Jones. “There was a desire to have continuity,” Jones said.

Hopson’s new contract begins July 1 of this year and will last until June 30, 2018. The previous contract would have expired in 2016. The new contract does not change Hopson’s $269,000 annual salary. Hopson is eligible for a raise whenever district employees receive a raise, though he can also be awarded a bonus by the board. His contract also includes $500,000 in life insurance and a district-provided vehicle.

After the meeting, Hopson said that he hopes to shift the district’s focus toward academics. The board spent almost two years preparing for the merging of the Memphis City school district with suburban Shelby County Schools and responding to suburban leaders’ subsequent plans to create six new districts carved out of the merged Shelby County Schools. The district has also lost a number of its chronically-underperforming schools to a new state-run district. This past spring, Hopson led the district through its largest series of school closings in recent history before cutting more than $200 million from its budget.

“I remain humble,” he said. “Such incredible work has been done.”

Board members said that having this board extend the contract would be beneficial. School board elections later this summer could bring a majority of new members onto the board.

“This board is uniquely qualified,” Jones said. “We have gone from the 23-member board to this seven-member board, and some will go forward to the new nine-member board.”

In his first evaluation, Hopson earned high marks for his ability to get support from community members and other stakeholders and for his calm approach to working through tough issues.

“This is an extremely strong evaluation,” said Henry Evans, a consultant with Germantown-based Centre Group, which conducted the 52-question survey about the superintendent’s performance in several areas.

The main concerns board members raised in the evaluation were that key positions, including chief financial officer and chief academic officer, have been left unfilled; that technology in the district should be improved; and that items to be voted on were not always presented to the board in a timely fashion.

Others have pointed out that Hopson, a lawyer, is not an educator by trade. Several commenters raised that concern at Monday night’s meeting.

“Thanks for your work; now pass it on to an educator,” said Claudette Boyd, a grandparent of Shelby County Schools students. Boyd also raised concerns about the growing state-run Achievement School District and the district’s embrace of charter schools.

“Mr. Hopson did a great job with the merger and demerger because they were legal issues,” said Valerie Grifith, a citizen who spoke during public comments. “But this isn’t a John Grisham novel. We need an educator.”

National experts have said that a superintendent’s working relationship with the board is as important as their education background, especially in large urban districts. They point out, however, that appropriate academic expertise is necessary within the district.

Board member Chris Caldwell highlighted the fact that Hopson had accepted a contract that does not guarantee him a large “buy-out” if his contract is terminated ahead of schedule. Previous superintendents, including former superintendent Kriner Cash, have received large buy-outs, which concerned some observers of the cash-strapped district.

Board member David Reaves said that though he had been skeptical of having a superintendent without a background in education, he had been won over by Hopson’s “hard skills as an attorney” and “excellent” soft skills.

“We’ve had educators from outside of this area who have failed the school system…I think we need stability,” he said.

Board member Shante Avant said she believed keeping Hopson in his role would allow the district to achieve a lofty set of academic goals recently adopted by the board aimed at increasing the district’s graduation rate and better preparing students for college and careers. “We need someone who can be here for the long haul,” she said.

Board member Jones said, “I do not take lightly the vacant C.A.O. position. But I know we’re making strides to address that…I do not always agree with his recommendations but I separate that from whether I think he’s the person we should support.”

Board member Billy Orgel singled out how calmly Hopson had handled difficulties at the beginning of last school year, when some buses were not running on time. “You didn’t point fingers. That’s leadership,” he said.

Board member Kevin Woods said he felt the superintendent could compensate for his lack of education background. “You’re surrounded by educators,” Woods said. “You’re the right person for this job.”

The six present board members unanimously approved the contract. Board member David Pickler was absent.
Hopson’s new contract:

Hopson’s previous contract:
Part of Hopson’s evaluation:

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