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Hopson: Not enough time to switch Memphis school from ASD to iZone

Students who attend Raleigh-Egypt Middle School have been the subject of a tug-of-war between Shelby County Schools and the state-run Achievement School District.
Students who attend Raleigh-Egypt Middle School have been the subject of a tug-of-war between Shelby County Schools and the state-run Achievement School District.
Micaela Watts

Citing time constraints, the leader of Shelby County Schools has backed away from the possibility of collaborating with Tennessee’s Achievement School District in turning around a low-performing Memphis middle school.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said Tuesday that it’s not logistically possible to quickly implement the proposal that emerged during recent discussions with ASD Superintendent Malika Anderson. Shelby County Schools would have had to move Raleigh-Egypt Middle School to its Innovation Zone by August, while the state-run district would have helped to secure funding to help pay for the cost of the local interventions.

“We don’t want to just force something and then it’s not done well,” Hopson told school board members. “We have extreme concerns about whether we can pull this off.”

The decision means that Raleigh-Egypt Middle will shift this year from local to state control, as announced last December. The ASD is expected to move forward with plans this summer to convert the school to a charter operation through Scholar Academies.

It also means that Shelby County Schools will proceed with its plan to reconfigure neighboring Raleigh-Egypt High School for grades 6-12. That arrangement allows families to decide whether they want their children to remain with their local district or to stay in the middle school building and attend the state-authorized charter.

Hopson first presented the board with the collaborative idea last week. He reported that he and Anderson had discussed how best to serve students of the school caught in the middle of two plans for their education.

But board members expressed concerns about reversing course at this point, even though the plan would enable the local district to retain the North Memphis school, its enrollment and related revenue.

Hopson said Shelby County Schools already has hired 10 middle school teachers for the reconfigured high school. Changing those plans, he said, would create logistical challenges, and possibly legal ones too.

Board member Stephanie Love, whose district houses both schools, said she supports staying the course. She said Raleigh-Egypt High School principal Bo Griffin is the right leader for the job.

“I’m glad we’re not going to do this model,” she said. “Our loyalty should always lie with (Shelby County Schools), and we have to be careful what we say so we don’t confuse anybody.”

However, board member Kevin Woods was hesitant to lose an opportunity to keep control of the middle school. He suggested that the district could implement less expensive turnaround strategies that borrow ideas from the iZone.

“There is iZone work that’s happening in the district without the iZone compensation,” Woods said. “There’s an opportunity to reclaim a school with the name and the expense of being an iZone, I think you as superintendent should entertain that.”

Hopson said discussions with the ASD were exclusively about turning the middle school into an iZone school using philanthropic funds secured through the state-run district.

Scholar Academies, the charter operator matched with Raleigh-Egypt Middle, had backed the potential partnership, even if it meant having to pull out.

An attempt to reach Anderson for comment Tuesday evening was not immediately successful.

Hopson said he’s willing to discuss other opportunities to collaborate with the ASD.

“I do think that wherever we can, we figure out ways to work together. But it’s got to be a plan that’s going to benefit kids,” Hopson said. “And given the lateness of where we are now, we just don’t think there’s time to put together the full menu of successful iZone strategies.”

Shelby County Schools is scheduled to host a community meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Raleigh-Egypt High School to update parents.

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