When Teresa Jones pressed her colleagues on the Shelby County Schools board last May to postpone closing Northside High School until next year, her goal was to give the neighborhood a little more time to say goodbye.
Instead, nearly all of the school’s teachers and students fled. The board responded by voting 5-3 Tuesday night to close Northside a year earlier than planned.
Originally slated for closure in 2017, the school won’t reopen this fall, and the district will find new schools for the school’s 36 remaining students. About 190 students were enrolled last year at Northside, which was originally built to hold almost six times as many students.
All but four of Northside’s teachers transferred out, which would leave the district scrambling to find short-term replacements, said board member Scott McCormick, who suggested speeding the closure.
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson urged the board to sign off on closing the school now, saying it was unclear if the school would have the staff and course offerings necessary for its seniors to graduate.
“I don’t see a credible path to being able to staff the school when we know it’s going to close,” Hopson said. He added that Manassas High, where former Northside students would be zoned, is a better school and only a mile away. (The school’s principal recently resigned after being charged with stealing from the school.)
When the board voted in April to close Northside and two other district-run schools, it projected that the closures would save the district more than $3 million. The district is $5.1 million in the hole on repairs for Northside, according to a Chalkbeat analysis of district maintenance data.
Northside students spoke out against the school’s closure when Hopson first proposed it in April. But on Tuesday, the only voices in the school’s defense came from people who graduated decades ago.
Two graduates said the school had played an important role in its North Memphis neighborhood and questioned why the new schools would be built while old ones need investment. They were alluding to Crosstown High School, which is part of a new development a mile from Northside in Midtown.
Michael Davis, who graduated in 1982, said he thinks the district isn’t investing in all neighborhoods of the city equally.
“In two decades, the history of an entire generation of folks who did things will be just whipped,” Davis said. “There will be no reunions, no reason to be affiliated. The neighborhood is changing. I say to the board that Northside has a lot of promise. North Memphis has a lot of promise.”
Jones, the board chair whose district includes Northside, voted against accelerating the closure, even as she conceded that the timing she preferred had not been ideal for the school.
“There have been unintended consequences,” Jones said. “I make this recommendation because the community implored me as their representative to do so.”