For months, Memphis school leaders have pledged a new approach to closing schools, based on data from a long-awaited building analysis, along with a community report from meetings with stakeholders across Shelby County.
On Wednesday, before the public release of either the analysis or the report, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson presented his recommendations to begin “right-sizing” the bloated school district. The massive overhaul would impact 13 schools and up to 4,600 students.
Under Hopson’s proposal, seven schools would be closed. Five of those would involve consolidations that would require building three new schools. The other two would be outright closures.
The consolidations would be similar to the recent project in South Memphis that opened a new Westhaven Elementary School to serve students in the Westhaven neighborhood, as well as those in two nearby schools that were closed.
The plan’s surprise rollout is a major deviation from Hopson’s original pledge to wait until a “footprint analysis” provides a snapshot of building needs before making recommendations on closing up to 24 schools over the next five years. The release of that analysis already has been delayed twice this fall, and no new release date has been announced.
Hopson said the stepped-up timeline is to ensure the district can secure funding from the Shelby County Board of Commissioners to begin construction on the new schools in time for openings in 2019. He called his plan a “no-brainer,” noting that it would eliminate six of the district’s 15 school buildings in most need of maintenance, as well as 2,500 empty seats. He also characterized his recommendations as separate from the conversation around the district’s long-term plan for school closures and consolidations of low-performing, under-enrolled schools with high maintenance costs.
“We need to take some actions that, regardless of what the surveys say, the data suggests that you have kids in the building and the building is in bad shape, you can send kids to a better-performing school. I don’t want to necessarily wait on decisions like that,” Hopson told reporters after Wednesday’s meeting.
Specifically, Hopson is recommending these changes, which would require approval from the school board:
- Close Dunbar Elementary and rezone students into Bethel Grove and Cherokee elementary schools;
- Close Carnes Elementary and rezone students into Downtown and Bruce elementary schools;
- Build a new Goodlett Elementary, demolish its current building, and bring in students from Knight Road Elementary, along with some from Sheffield and Getwell elementary schools. Knight Road also would be demolished.
- Build a new Alcy Elementary, demolish its current building, and bring in students from Charjean and Magnolia elementary schools, which would be demolished or sold.
- Build a new Woodstock Middle, demolish its current building, and create a K-12 school with Lucy and Northaven elementary schools. Those two schools would be demolished, sold or repurposed. E.E. Jeter K-8 students would be rezoned to the new Woodstock school beginning in the ninth grade instead of the current Trezevant and Bolton high schools.
School board members will discuss Hopson’s plan at their Nov. 29 work session and cast their initial vote on Dec. 6. School closures require two separate votes, along with several community hearings.
Board members didn’t comment on the proposal during Wednesday’s committee meeting but have acknowledged the need to right-size the district, which started off the school year with 22,000 empty seats.
The consolidations, which include building new schools, follow the model used recently at the new Westhaven Elementary school, suggesting that this is the emerging model for closing schools in the future. This fall, the district opened Westhaven and enrolled students from two nearby schools — Fairley and Raineshaven — that closed last year because of low enrollment and poor academic performance. Westhaven also was placed into Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone, the district’s program for overhauling low-performing schools.
Hopson also has proposed folding Sheffield and Alcy elementary schools into the iZone. If approved, both schools would see extended school days and a major overhaul of staffing — two hallmarks of the district’s school turnaround program.
Correction, Nov. 16, 2016: This story has been updated to show that students leaving E.E. Jeter K-8 would be rezoned to Woodstock K-12 under Hopson’s plan. A previous version incorrectly reported that E.E. Jeter would be closed.