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Hopson receives satisfactory grade on performance evaluation

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has overseen Tennessee's largest public school district since 2013.
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has overseen Tennessee's largest public school district since 2013.
Caroline Bauman

It’s official: Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson is doing a satisfactory job running Tennessee’s largest public school district, according to his evaluation from the school board.

Hopson’s 2014-15 evaluation was reviewed Tuesday night by board members following months of collaboration with the Centre Group, a Memphis human resources organization that conducted the assessment.

The report comes during a year in which the Memphis district improved scores in state tests in nearly every subject except for reading which, like most of the rest of the state, decreased. Two-thirds of schools in Shelby County Schools saw their average scores increase from last year.

For those gains, the school board voted in August to award Hopson a one-time bonus of $15,000.

In his evaluation, Hopson earned a “meets expectations” grade in every category. In his last evaluation in June 2014, he received “above expectations” marks in five of the seven categories. However, “these are not apples to apples comparisons,” said Henry Evans, a consultant with the Centre Group.

This year, Evans noted, the board includes new members and the evaluation instrument has fewer categories — both factors that can affect an evaluation in either a positive or negative way.

“I don’t want this evaluation to be perceived as not a good evaluation for the superintendent. In fact, the board members do share a consensus that the overall performance of the superintendent remains solid through evaluation, although evaluation gradings are lower than they were in 2014,” Evans said.

A Memphis native and graduate of Whitehaven High School, Hopson became the first superintendent of Shelby County Schools after the former Memphis City Schools merged with legacy Shelby County Schools in 2013.

He has overseen the district during a period of massive change in Shelby County’s educational landscape. In 2014, the newly consolidated district underwent a split as six suburban municipalities broke off to create their own school systems. Meanwhile, the county’s charter sector has grown significantly, mostly due to the state-run Achievement School District’s expansion at the expense of Shelby County Schools.

The ripple effect has caused Shelby County Schools’ enrollment to shrink and created numerous financial challenges that Hopson and his administration are continuing to navigate. This year, the district cut $125 million from its 2015-16 budget and laid off more than 500 employees. Hopson’s proposal to reduce retiree health benefits fizzled amid public outcry, but he has said the district will have to find another way to cut costs. Earlier this month, the superintendent warned board members that the district will face a $72 million shortfall for the upcoming school year.

For his latest evaluation, Hopson thanked the board and credited the district’s administrators and teachers for academic gains.

“What I don’t want to get lost is that we showed improvement in nine out of 10 testing categories, we’re a (TVAAS) level 5 district, and we increased our graduation rate for about three years, all while dealing with a de-merger,” the superintendent said. “I’m very proud of it and I think this board is just a harder grader.”

Several board members expressed satisfaction with Hopson’s leadership.

“Like everybody, superintendent, we all have improvements to make,” Billy Orgel said. “I think your job performance was as good two years ago as it was this year. You’re certainly not a perfect 10, but I appreciate your hard work and effort and willingness to improve in certain areas.”

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