Shelby County Schools superintendent says closings should help district boost academics

The closure of ten Memphis schools should help the Shelby County Schools improve education for students who have been stuck in underperforming schools, the district’s superintendent Dorsey Hopson said in a press release today.

The district’s board voted Tuesday to approve plans to close 10 schools in Memphis. Thirteen schools had initially been on the chopping block, but the district’s plans were reshaped by a series of community meetings.

Hopson has repeatedly framed the closings as a way for the district to consolidate resources in order to address low performance in the schools, most of which have seen enrollment drop precipitously in recent years. Research on the academic impact of school closures in other cities suggests that improving education will be a challenge.

From the district’s press release:

On February 25, 2014, the Shelby County Board of Education voted in support of 12 recommendations presented by Superintendent Dorsey Hopson to close under-utilized, under-resourced and under-performing schools. The vote aligns with Superintendent Hopson’s commitment to ensuring children in every community have access to the best academic offerings to help them succeed as students, citizens and professionals in the 21st century.

“I firmly believe the decisions we’ve made as a district and Board are in the best interest of students,” Hopson stated. “We have an obligation to give our students the best opportunities to learn and grow, and the truth is we cannot accomplish that in schools that are under-utilized and under-resourced.”

“These decisions were not taken lightly. This was an extremely diligent process,” Hopson said. “We studied each individual situation carefully, and I’m most grateful for the feedback we got from our stakeholders.”

Input from the community was vital to the process and, in fact, led to changes to multiple recommendations: two schools were kept open (Alcy Elementary and Riverview Middle), one decision was delayed a year to allow more time to study alternatives (Northside High) and a resolution was approved to explore the construction of a new school in one community (Westhaven Elementary), which would improve learning for students at three separate schools.

“I recognize this was a tough and emotional process for parents and stakeholders who love their schools, and I’m grateful for their input,” Hopson said. “What it shows is that we have passionate and engaged families. What I’ve said to every community I met with is that our students will need the same type of passion, pride and support at their next school for this to be a success.”

The Superintendent says there is an exciting element to these decisions from an overall teaching and learning standpoint. He points out that welcoming schools have an opportunity to incorporate the best practices and successes of the prior schools, which, undoubtedly, will benefit all students in the school.

The principals and teaching staff at the welcoming schools are excited about 2014-15, as well. They’re working on plans to ensure continuity and a smooth transition for all students.

“A year from now, I want us to look back and be able to say we all did our part – Board Members, district leaders, teachers, families. If we are all active and engaged partners, and we embrace the opportunities we have, our students are going to benefit.”

Here are the district’s most recent plans. You can find more of Chalkbeat’s reporting on the district’s community engagement process and plans for the closings here.

Chalkbeat spoke with WKNO about the superintendent’s hopes for the closings earlier this week.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.