Seeking to provide a one-stop shop for parents with questions about Shelby County Schools, district leaders officially opened a parent welcome center on Wednesday and heralded the resource as another tool to address longstanding challenges with community engagement.
Located behind the school board headquarters in Memphis, the center is open on weekdays between 7:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. and staffed with 14 employees, including two bilingual staff members. It also features 10 computers to assist with online registration and other online processes in a city where more than 32 percent of residents do not have Internet access at home.
“Having one receptionist try and connect the dots to all the different departments gets challenging,” said Superintendent Dorsey Hopson. “What this essentially is is a one-stop shop for our parents.”
The welcome center opened informally in August to provide parents with an efficient way to get accurate information about district services, transportation, school transfer options, registration and other topics.
To date, the new operation has logged more than 2,600 visits and 64,000 phone calls. During the first week of the new school year in August, the center fielded more than 6,000 phone calls and helped more than 23,000 parents with online registration, officials said.
Reaching parents and engaging the community has been a chronic challenge for Memphis schools, burdened by high rates of poverty and mobility. But as the cash-strapped district is asked to do more with less, leaders say that efficiency is critical. Numerous other school districts, including Metro Nashville Public Schools, operate similar parent welcome centers.
“Parents are asked to be involved and engaged, and sometimes it can be discouraging if you call and there’s only one person to assist you with a phone call and they have to direct you away for periods of time,” said Sonia Worsham, president of the parent-teacher organization at Snowden School, where her son is a student.
District and school leaders also hope the center will provide another avenue to increase parental involvement in their children’s education.
“I think with the new parent center and having 10 people to answer your calls, having computers available for the parents to sign up to volunteer for organizations or to tutor and do all those different things, it will help parents be more mindful of it and more willing to do something,” Worsham said.
Chris Caldwell, a school board member, agreed. “I think engaging parents and the community has been a piece the district has to work on, and I think this is the next step,” he said.
The center’s employees are trained to answer general questions, and four serve exclusively as “parent liasions” to work with parents and school administrators to find common ground when challenges arise, said Joris Ray, assistant superintendent of academic operations.
The center is located at 2687 Avery Ave. Parents with questions are also encouraged to call the center at (901) 416-5300.