Watch list

Shelby County Schools says it needs to close more schools. Here are 25 that are at risk.

As Shelby County Schools embarks on a process to cut costs by closing schools, two dozen Memphis schools already have three strikes against them.

Twenty-five schools have test scores so low that the state could require them to be overhauled; enroll fewer than 70 percent as many students as their buildings can hold; and operate in space that would cost more than $1 million on average to bring up to date, according to a Chalkbeat analysis of district data.

Those schools could be most vulnerable for closure in the near future as the district looks for ways to reduce costs and capacity in response to declining student enrollment. They include Raleigh Egypt High School, East High School, Bruce Elementary School and 12 iZone schools.

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The district is preparing to release a study of its space footprint this fall as part of a “right-sizing” process that Superintendent Dorsey Hopson jumpstarted this spring. He has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. Already this year, the district is closing two schools and one center serving adult students in an effort to trim costs.

The district considers enrollment, maintenance costs, and test score performance when deciding which schools to close. School board member Kevin Woods said there is no cut-and-dry threshold for low enrollment that makes a school eligible for closure, although previous closures since 2012 have included schools with utilization rates up to 71 percent.

District officials have declined to comment on schools’ utilization rates before releasing the footprint study this fall. (After this story was published, officials released a statement reiterating that they will release a plan that includes collaboration with the community. “Any other reference of potential school closures is speculation and not based on the result of the District’s efforts,” the statement said.)

The district-run schools the school board decided this year to shutter — Northside and Carver high schools — were each using less than a third of their space and together needed $8.6 million in repairs. After Northside closes in a year, both buildings will sit empty while the district decides whether to repurpose or demolish them.

Northside and Carver are the most under-enrolled schools in the district, with only 23 and 31 percent of seats filled, respectively.

Hamilton Middle School is the next least crowded, with 383 students using a building designed for nearly 1,200. (At the other end of the spectrum is Wells Station Elementary School, where 754 students are crammed into a building meant for half as many.)

Hamilton was one of the district’s first schools in its vaunted Innovation Zone initiative, in which some low-performing schools are getting extra money to boost student scores. That initiative could complicate the district’s decision-making in the coming years: Twelve of the schools with three strikes are in the iZone, meaning that a decision to close them would undercut the district’s own recent investments. The district is also planning to add new grades and programs to other schools meeting all three closure conditions, suggesting that the district might intend to keep them open.

Shelby County’s many underused and poorly maintained buildings have played a major role in this year’s budget negotiations. Members of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners, which supplies most of the funding for school facilities, have questioned why they should contribute more to the district when it could move more quickly to close underused schools.

“Without a budget deficit, you’re not closing schools,” Commissioner David Reaves told Hopson during a hearing about whether the commission should allocate more money to school operations. “I don’t believe without a burning reason to do it that your board gets the job done.”

Below, find the district-run schools that are using no more than 70 percent of their space. Schools that also are on the state’s “priority” list of low-performing schools or in danger of joining it and would require more than $1 million to bring up to date are in bold.

  1. Northside High School
  2. Carver High School
  3. Hamilton Middle School
  4. Vollentine Elementary School
  5. Westwood High School
  6. East High School
  7. Magnolia Elementary School
  8. Mt. Pisgah Middle School
  9. Hamilton High School
  10. Woodstock Middle School
  11. Carnes Elementary School
  12. Trezevant High School
  13. Dexter Middle School
  14. Getwell Elementary School
  15. A. B. Hill Elementary School
  16. Northaven Elementary School
  17. Manor Lake Elementary School
  18. Manassas High School
  19. Mitchell High School
  20. Melrose High School
  21. Cordova Middle School
  22. Lucy Elementary School
  23. Raleigh-Egypt High School
  24. Alcy Elementary School
  25. Geeter Middle School
  26. Bruce Elementary School
  27. Hawkins Mill Elementary School
  28. Treadwell Middle School
  29. Bethel Grove Elementary School
  30. Chickasaw Middle School
  31. Double Tree Elementary School
  32. Douglass High School
  33. Alton Elementary School
  34. Oakhaven High School
  35. Southwind High School
  36. LaRose Elementary School

You can see all 142 district-run school’s enrollment data and maintenance costs here. Pay special attention to the “facility condition index,” or FCI rate, which measures the maintenance and repair costs against the current replacement cost of the building. The higher the number, the less cost effective it is for the district to keep the building open.


Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a statement issued Wednesday by Shelby County Schools.

under study

Tennessee lawmakers to take a closer look at school closures

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
The once-bustling sidewalks outside of shuttered Lincoln Elementary School are empty today. Shelby County Schools closed the school in 2015.

In five years, more than 20 public schools have closed in Memphis, often leaving behind empty buildings that once served as neighborhood hubs.

Now, Rep. Joe Towns wants to hit the pause button.

The Memphis Democrat asked a House education subcommittee on Tuesday to consider a bill that would halt school closures statewide for five years. The measure would require the state comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability to study the impact on students and communities before allowing local districts to shutter schools again.

The panel will review Towns’ proposal during a summer study session.

Towns said empty school buildings hurt property values, lower tax revenue, and hit local governments in the pocketbook. Currently, there’s no Memphis-specific research on the economic impact of shuttering schools.

“There are unintended consequences,” Towns said. “What this does to a community is not good. Who here would want to live next to a school that’s been closed?”

Rep. Mark White, a Memphis Republican who chairs the subcommittee, said he sympathizes. But pausing school closures might make it more difficult for Shelby County Schools to balance its budget, he said.

“Our superintendent is faced with buildings that hold a thousand kids, and they’re down to 250,” White said. “I don’t want to put one more burden on them.”

Last fall, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the district may need to close 18 schools in the next five years if student enrollment continues to decline. Hopson recently unveiled a framework for investing in struggling schools before being considering them for closure.

Any future school closures in Memphis won’t be just to cut costs, district leaders have said. And for the first time since the historic merger, Shelby County Schools is not grappling with a budget deficit.

Community voices

Memphians weigh in on Hopson’s investment plan for struggling schools

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson speaks Monday night to about 175 educators, parents and students gathered to learn about Shelby County Schools' plan to make new investments in struggling schools

After years of closing struggling schools, Shelby County Schools is changing course and preparing to make investments in them, beginning with 19 schools that are challenged by academics, enrollment, aging buildings and intergenerational poverty.

This May, 11 of those schools will receive “treatment plans” tailored to their needs and based on learnings from the Innovation Zone, the district’s 5-year-old school turnaround initiative. The other eight schools already are part of a plan announced last fall to consolidate them into three new buildings.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson and Chief of Schools Sharon Griffin talked up the new dynamic Monday night during a community meeting attended by about 175 educators, parents and students. In his proposed budget for next school year, Hopson has set aside $5.9 million to pay for supports for the 11 schools dubbed “critical focus” schools. 

Here’s the framework for the changes and which schools will be impacted.

Monday’s gathering was first in which Memphians got to publicly weigh in on the district’s new game plan. Here’s what several stakeholders had to say:

Quinterious Martin

Quinterious Martin, 10th-grader at Westwood High School:

“It really helped me to hear that the label of ‘critical’ is going to help us out, not pull us down. I was worried when I first heard our school would be on the list of critical schools, but I get it now. The point is to help the schools out, not make them feel worse. To me, one thing Westwood really needs is more classes to get us ready for our future careers, like welding or mechanics. My commitment tonight was to always improve in what I do.”

Deborah Calvin, a teacher at Springdale Elementary School:

“I enjoyed the presentation tonight. I think it’s so important to know everyone is on the same page. The plan will only be successful if everyone in the community is aware of what the goals are. I think they made it really clear tonight that just more money doesn’t help turn a school. It takes a lot of community support. We really need more parent involvement at Springdale. Children need support when they go home. They need someone to sit down with them and work through homework or read.”

Catherine Starks, parent at Trezevant High School:

“Honestly, I think this is just going through the motions and something to keep parents quiet. Some schools may be getting the supports they need, but not all of them are. Trezevant is one that is not. … We need good leadership and we need someone to be advocates for our kids. I want to see the kids at our school get the support they need from the principal, the guidance counselor, the superintendent. Trezevant has had negative everything, but now we need some positive attention. And we really need the community to step up.”

Neshellda Johnson and daughter Rhyan

Neshellda Johnson, fourth-grade teacher at Hawkins Mill Elementary School:

“Hawkins Mill has been in the bottom 5 percent for awhile and has been targeted (for takeover) by the state for about four consecutive years. …  It’s refreshing to see that, instead of putting us on the chopping block, the district is looking to actually invest in us and give us the tools we need so we can continue to have growth. … I’m looking to the district for academic supports with regards to reading, more teachers assistants, more time for teaching and less time for testing, and more after-school and summer enrichment programs. And in addition to supports for our students, I’m hopeful there will be supports offered for our parents. We have a need for mental health and counseling services in our area.”

You can view the district’s full presentation from Monday night below: