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Just over half of Shelby County students are registered a week before classes start

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said Shelby County Schools will need to close up to 24 schools in the next five years.
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said Shelby County Schools will need to close up to 24 schools in the next five years.
Caroline Bauman

Despite the fanfare around Shelby County’s new online registration, only 56 percent of district parents have registered their children for school with just a week before classes start.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said Monday that he views the percentage as a success for the first year of an all-online registration process.

But to boost the number, the district is opening all schools on Tuesday for parents to register their children. The schools will be open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., with employees on hand to help with the online process.

“Not surprisingly, in some of our more impoverished areas, the online registration numbers are very low,” Hopson said. “We’re going to be supporting those schools tomorrow, so parents can come in and register.”

(See Chalkbeat’s preview of the change to online registration, including the challenge of the “digital divide” in Memphis.)

“All in all, I’m pleased with the online registration process,” Hopson added, “but I know there’s going to be some heavy lifting that we’re going to have to do tomorrow.”

Hopson offered the registration update in his office while fielding questions about the district’s performance, including the state Department of Education’s recognition Monday of 170 schools, including 35 in Shelby County, for their growth or performance on standardized tests in 2014-15. (A full list of the reward and priority schools can be found on the state website).

He cited increased leader and teacher training and effectiveness as the main driver for growth in Shelby County Schools.

“You’re seeing the fruits of all that hard work,” he said, referring to the district’s academic overhaul with the help of a $90 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We’ll stack our teachers up against anybody in the country.”

In a special work session on Tuesday evening, the Shelby County Board of Education is scheduled to look at the district’s newly released scores and consider whether to give Hopson a performance bonus. Hopson’s base salary is $269,000, and his contract runs through June of 2018.

Asked about the prospect of a bonus, Hopson parried the question to praise the work of teachers and administrators in Tennessee’s largest public school district, which has become an incubator for education improvement efforts among struggling schools and students.

“I’m proud of the work our teachers and school leaders are doing, and they deserve all the credit,” he said. “The board has set ambitious but obtainable goals, and they’re going to hold me accountable to those. I support them in whatever decision they make.”

Hopson added that the district still has a long way to go, especially in boosting its sunken literacy rates.

“We’re still very concerned about literacy; we talk about that all the time,” Hopson said. “You’ll see that we’re going to have a laser-light focus on that.”

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