school closures

Community proposes plan to save Carver High School, one of the few low-performing schools Shelby County hasn’t overhauled

PHOTO: Micaela Watts
Carver High School served the Riverview neighborhood of South Memphis since 1957.

If the third time’s the charm for efforts to close George Washington Carver High School, it won’t be because the community gave up on the long-struggling school.

Local leaders have sprung to defend the school each time the district has proposed closing it, most recently in a surprise recommendation last month.

“You would think the third time, people think, ‘They’re going to do it anyway,’ so people would not show up to rallies,” said Ralph White, a Carver graduate who is also the pastor of neighboring Bloomfield Baptist Church. “But just the opposite happened. We’ve had better response this time.”

The outcry — and a community proposal to improve Carver — prompted the school board to reconsider the closure last week even as it moved ahead with shutting down other schools last month. Now, the community waits to learn this week whether Shelby County will try to move forward with closing the 198-student school this year, which the cash-strapped district says would save nearly $1 million a year.

Whatever happens, one thing is clear: Carver is one of the only low-performing schools in Shelby County that hasn’t been overhauled or closed in recent years — and uncertainty over its future has surely contributed to its decline.

White’s accounting of Carver’s closure attempts starts in the 1990s. But the contemporary era of school closures in Memphis began in 2012, when the state first named 69 low-scoring “priority schools” in the city that had to either improve or shut down. Almost all of those schools have since been taken over by the state-run Achievement School District; added to Shelby County’s Innovation Zone and given additional resources; or closed. Carver is one of just a few schools on the list not to change at all.

That’s not to say that the district hasn’t considered deploying those strategies at Carver, or that they haven’t affected the school.

Carver first faced closure in 2012, when the Shelby County and Memphis City school districts merged and considered closing schools with low enrollment as a way to use their pooled resources more effectively. Students testified in public hearings against the proposal, and ultimately the new board decided to close only a few schools that year. Carver wasn’t among them.

The following year, the school got what initially seemed to be a boost: The school board voted to fold Riverview Middle School into Carver, which would boost its enrollment and bring new resources. But the board reversed the decision when it realized that closing Riverview could mean giving up federal funds that were being used to improve it as part of the district’s iZone.

At the same time, the Achievement School District was considering adding Carver to its portfolio. A local advisory council set up to help the state-run district match schools to charter operators chose Green Dot Public Schools for Carver, but Green Dot officials said their outreach efforts at Fairley High School were more successful and chose to run that school instead. The episode left Carver with negative press but no new help.

Each time, the school’s advocates have breathed a sigh of relief when the school was removed from the chopping block, assured that the school that had been open since 1957 would survive.

But the school’s difficulties deepened over this period, as well, as it dropped to the fourth-lowest-performing in Tennessee according to the state’s rankings. Enrollment fell from 700 students a decade ago to fewer than 200 now, according to district officials, and the school found it hard to hold on to teachers.

Ralph White, Carver alumnus and pastor at Bloomfield Baptist Church (Photo by Laura Faith Kebede)
Ralph White, Carver alumnus and pastor at Bloomfield Baptist Church (Photo by Laura Faith Kebede)

The neighborhood saw its population decline during this time, but the uncertainty over Carver’s future also prompted students to transfer or not enroll, White said. Community organizer and former Memphis City Schools board member Sara Lewis pointed to an even broader effect of the repeated referendums on Carver’s existence.

“It just contributes to the further decline of the community,” she said. “And children think we as a community don’t really care about them.”

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson told school board members that the school is in such dire straits that there would be little value in keeping it open.

“The conditions over there in regard to the low enrollment and the constant turnover just make it a very difficult situation for anybody to thrive in,” Hopson said during the April meeting. “I would even say that the faculty there is really doing the best they can with what they have.”

The school’s 16 teachers, who would have to find new positions within the district or lose their jobs, have not participated in the public protests. Neither has Principal Alvin Harris, although he attended the most recent hearing, which drew about 200 people earlier this month. (Harris did not return a request for comment.)

Instead, support for the school has come mostly from the community leaders who have been at Carver’s side each time it was threatened. The George Washington Carver High School Alumni Association put together a community plan that represents the most specific set of suggestions community partners have come up with since the closure attempts started, White said.

The plan includes a proposal to expand Carver’s enrollment zone to include some territory that was rezoned to Hamilton High School when another area high school closed. It also plans for alumni, business leaders, and nonprofit partners to supply academic tutoring and reopen a family resource center at the school. And it urges Hopson to add Carver to the iZone.

Until he hears Hopson’s answers to the community plan this week, White said he’s still prepared to keep up the fight.

“It’s an ongoing effort,” he said. “We’re sleeping in our battle clothes.”

At the school’s recent community meeting on the proposed closure, school board member Shante Avant, whose district includes Carver, commended community members for supporting the school but noted that more alumni than current parents or students had spoken out.

She suggested that community members would do well to back the board’s plan to move Carver students to Hamilton High School, which is getting extra resources already as part of the district’s iZone and would get even more to support the new students.

“History is important,” Avant said. “But we have to think of the future of our children who are currently here.”

Indiana's 2018 legislative session

These are the 13 education bills poised to become law in Indiana in 2018

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
House Speaker Brian Bosma talks with Democrats shortly before the session adjourned without passing several bills.

Despite a chaotic end to this year’s legislative session, lawmakers managed to push through several education bills that could bring changes for teachers, students and schools.

And it’s not quite over either.

Lawmakers ran out of time before their midnight deadline last week, leaving behind several major bills, including a bill that would expand state takeover in Gary and Muncie school districts. On Monday, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced he’d be calling for a special session so they could revisit that issue and others.

In non-budget year, it can be hard to make significant change because money is generally not available to fund new programs or increase existing ones. This year, the biggest education issue lawmakers passed was a bill to make up an unexpected shortfall in school funding.

Below is a summary of education bills that passed this session, which next head to Holcomb, where he can decide whether to sign them into law. You can find the status of all the bills introduced this year here, and Chalkbeat’s 2018 legislative coverage here.

Graduation and workforce

Senate Bill 50 establishes the governor’s workforce cabinet, which would oversee job training efforts across the state. The cabinet would create a “career navigation and coaching system,” which all Indiana high schools would be required to participate in. State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick would be a cabinet member.

House Bill 1426 would combine Indiana’s four diplomas into a single diploma with four “designations” that mirror current diploma tracks. In addition, it would change rules for getting a graduation waiver and create an “alternate diploma” for students with severe special needs.The bill would also allow the Indiana State Board of Education to consider alternatives to Algebra 2 as a graduation requirement. It makes several changes to state tests, replacing the state high school exam with a national college-entrance exam and eliminating the requirement that schools give the Accuplacer remediation test. The final version of the bill also changes the timing of testing from earlier version. Students wouldn’t begin the new graduation pathways plan until 2021, so the same deadline was applied to switching to a college entrance exam for state accountability. Until then, state education officials will have to decide what annual test high schoolers take when students in grades 3-8 switch to the new ILEARN test next year.


House Bill 1001 would close the gap in school funding that resulted from miscalculations in the number of students attending public schools. The bills would let the state transfer up to $25 million this year and up to $75 million next year from a reserve fund to the state general fund, where it could then be distributed to districts. The bill also calls for a study of virtual education programs within school districts.


Senate Bill 172 would require public schools to offer computer science classes as an elective in high schools, as well as a part of the science curriculum for all K-12 students, by 2021. The bill also sets up a grant program to help pay for teacher training in computer science.

Senate Bill 297 would require schools to include “employability skills,” also known as “soft skills,” in their curriculums. The idea for the bill came from David Freitas, a member of the state board of education.

Senate Bill 65 would require school districts to let parents examine any instructional materials dealing with sex education. It would also require schools to send out consent forms for sex ed classes, where parents could then opt students out of the class. If they do not, the students would still receive instruction.

House Bill 1399 would require the state board to create elementary teacher licenses in math and science. It would also require the state education department to create an incentive program to reward teachers who earn the content area licenses.

Senate Bill 387 would allow districts to pay teachers different amounts and give special education and science teachers extra stipends in an effort to fill jobs. A previous measure that would let districts hire up to 10 percent of unlicensed teachers has been added and removed several times this year, and was killed for good in conference committee. The bill also makes changes to the state’s career specialist permit. Career specialists would have to pass an exam showing they understand how students learn and the practice of teaching, in addition to content exams. The bill also removes a provision from the current version of the permit that says a career specialist must have a bachelor’s degree in the area they wish to teach in.


House Bill 1420, among several other measures, would not let a student who has been expelled from a virtual charter school for non-attendance re-enroll in that same school during the same school year.

House Bill 1421 would ask the state education department to develop a school discipline model that reduces suspensions and expulsions, especially among students of color. It also requires the department to provide guidance and information to districts, beginning in 2019, that want to use that model. It encourages the legislative council to study positive student discipline and restorative justice and asks the education department to survey districts on those practices.

House Bill 1398 would allow a group of charter schools and districts to form a “coalition” to pursue innovative academic strategies. Coalition members could also waive certain state requirements, such as the requirement that students pass Algebra 2 to graduate.

Senate Bill 217 would require districts and charter schools to screen students for dyslexia and by 2019, to employ at least one reading specialist trained in dyslexia, among other provisions.

House Bill 1314 would set up data sharing between the state’s education and child services departments. It would also require that the Indiana State Board of Education release an annual report about foster and homeless youth education.

'A Significant Change'

Done doing ‘more with less,’ Brighton district will move to a four-day school week

PHOTO: Seth McConnell/The Denver Post
Students in Alicia Marquez's 6th grade science class at Overland Trail Middle School in Brighton watch a video and work on home work in August 2017. (Photo by Seth McConnell/The Denver Post)

Students in the Brighton school district will attend school just four days a week starting next school year.

Officials with the fast-growing district north of Denver announced they were considering the change earlier this year after voters turned down a request in November for more local taxes, the latest in a string of defeats for District 27J. This week, they made it official.

There are already 87 school districts in Colorado that use a four-day week at all their schools, but until recently, the phenomenon was largely limited to rural districts. Brighton will be the largest school district in the state on a four-day week

In response to the concerns of working parents, the district will offer paid child care for elementary-aged children every Monday, when school is closed, officials said. Teachers will work some Mondays on planning and professional development.

The change is expected to save the district about $1 million a year, but Brighton Superintendent Chris Fiedler previously told Chalkbeat that the biggest benefit will be “to attract and retain teachers” in a district whose salaries are among the lowest in the metro area.

“I realize this will be a significant change for our students, their families, and the communities we are so fortunate to serve, but our district can no longer be expected to do more with less financial resources,” Fiedler said in a press release.

A mill levy override, a type of property tax increase, hasn’t been approved in District 27J since 2000. A 16th request for more revenue failed in November.

“We are 100 percent committed to providing our students with the necessary skills and competencies that will enable a future far beyond graduation,” Fiedler said. “To that end, I believe it is in our students’ best interest to provide high-quality, engaged teachers using 21st Century tools for learning four days a week rather than not have them five days a week.”

Local union president Kathey Ruybal told Chalkbeat that teachers showed “overwhelming support” for the change.