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Historic Memphis high school loses out on federal grant aimed at boosting STEM focus

Since 1948, East High School has served students in Memphis.
Since 1948, East High School has served students in Memphis.
Caroline Bauman

The plan to turn one of Memphis’ most iconic high schools into an optional STEM school has gotten murkier after not making the cut for a federal grant.

Shelby County Schools did not receive a U.S. Department of Education grant sought to redesign East High School as a magnet school focused on science, technology, engineering and math, a district spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday.

The school system had applied for the $6 million grant in May through the Magnet Schools Assistance Program.

The news is a blow to the district’s plan to redesign East, where last year’s enrollment of about 550 students was its lowest since the school’s opening in 1948. Located at the crossroads of major thoroughfares in the heart of Memphis, East was built to hold 2,000 students.

The STEM redesign is part of the district’s effort to reverse declining enrollment and diversify the school’s demographics, according to documents filed with the school board. Currently, about 94 percent of East’s population is black, and 61 percent reside within its attendance zone.

It’s uncertain how the lost grant will impact the planned redesign or the school going forward. A district spokeswoman said administrators want to hear from students, parents and other community members about the school’s future. A meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 17 at the school and will be led by school board Chairwoman Teresa Jones, whose district includes East.

Shelby County Schools also will begin holding a series of community meetings across Memphis beginning next week to seek public input about the future of its schools and prospective closures based on a soon-to-be-released analysis of facilities, challenges and needs across the district.

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