movin' on up

Turnaround leader Sharon Griffin promoted to chief of schools in Memphis

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
Shelby County Schools iZone chief Sharon Griffin accepts her award as Tennessee's 2015 supervisor of the year.

Sharon Griffin, who has gained national praise for leading school turnaround work in Memphis, was named chief of schools Wednesday for Tennessee’s largest public school district.

Griffin becomes the first person to hold that title in Shelby County Schools. She joins Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s cabinet and will continue to oversee the district’s turnaround work under its heralded Innovation Zone.

As chief of schools, Griffin will supervise and support the district’s principals, while also overseeing teacher coaching, leadership development and virtual schools.

The move was part of a reshuffling of the district’s academic office and will relieve some responsibilities from Heidi Ramirez, whose new title is chief of academics, and Brad Leon, now chief of strategy and performance management. Both Ramirez and Leon are already members of Hopson’s cabinet.

Griffin’s promotion comes almost a year after the iZone’s leadership team was restructured and expanded.

As regional superintendent of the iZone, Griffin oversaw expansion of the initiative to 21 schools since 2012. She has hosted education officials from across the nation, including the District of Columbia and Indianapolis, to learn how Shelby County Schools has posted steady gains at its lowest-performing schools.

“Our secret ingredient is people,” Griffin said in a news release about her new role. “If we become more intentional about targeted support of our educators and give them the resources needed for success, we will see a drastic turnaround in student achievement.”


Read Griffin’s 2016 Q&A with Chalkbeat about her turnaround work.


The iZone model, which costs about $600,000 per school per year, relies on principal leadership, longer school days, teacher bonuses and connecting low-income families to social services to boost academic achievement. Griffin took over the program after overseeing a school turnaround plan as principal of Airways Middle School.

A Memphis native, Griffin is a graduate of LeMoyne-Owen College and received her doctorate at the University of Memphis. She was named Tennessee’s 2015 supervisor of the year.

packing up

Charter school in Tennessee’s turnaround district relocating out of neighborhood it signed up to serve

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
The new Memphis Scholars Raleigh-Egypt sign next to faded letters of Shelby County Schools name for the middle school.

When officials at Memphis Scholars Raleigh-Egypt Middle School learned that another school on the same campus could get extra help for its students, they made a big decision: to pick up and move.

Memphis Scholars announced Monday that the school will reopen next year in a building 16 miles away, where the charter operator already runs another school under Tennessee’s turnaround district. The network will pay to bus students from the Raleigh neighborhood across Memphis daily.

The move is the latest and most dramatic episode in an ongoing enrollment war between the state-run Achievement School District and Shelby County Schools in the Raleigh neighborhood.

Most recently, Shelby County Schools proposed adding Raleigh-Egypt Middle/High, which shares a campus with Memphis Scholars now, into the district’s Innovation Zone — a change that would bring new resources and, the district hopes, more students.

The Innovation Zone represents a “high-quality intervention” for students in the neighborhood, according to Memphis Scholars Executive Director Nick Patterson. But he said it makes the presence of his school less essential.

Shelby County Schools’ proposal “creates two schools, on the same campus, serving the same grades, both implementing expensive school-turnaround initiatives,” Patterson said in a statement. “Memphis Scholars strongly believes that this duplication of interventions is not in the best interest of students and families as it divides scarce resources between two schools.”

The move also allows the network to solve two persistent problems. First, enrollment at Raleigh-Egypt Middle is less than half of what it was supposed to be, putting so much pressure on the school’s budget that the network obtained an energy audit to help it cut costs. That’s because Shelby County Schools expanded the adjacent high school to include middle school grades, in an effort to retain students and funding.

Plus, Memphis Scholars ran into legal obstacles to adding middle school grades to its Florida-Kansas school. Moving an existing middle school to the Memphis Scholars Florida-Kansas Elementary campus circumvents those obstacles. Because state law requires that at least 75 percent of students at Achievement School District schools come from the neighborhood zone or other low-performing schools on the state’s “priority list,” the charter school can welcome any middle schooler in its new neighborhood.

But network officials want to keep serving their existing students, and they’re offering transportation to make that possible.

It’s unclear if Raleigh students will follow the charter school across town. Some parents reached by Chalkbeat on Monday said they hadn’t heard about the changes yet, but their students said they found out today.

“I hadn’t heard about the changes, but I don’t like that too much,” said Reco Barnett, who has two daughters who attend the school. “We’re here because it’s right by where we live. It’s right in our area. I don’t know what we’ll do yet, I just now found out when you told me, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to do that. That’s a long ways away from us.”

The move would free up the building for use by Shelby County Schools. District officials did not provide comment Monday.

Chalkbeat reporter Caroline Bauman contributed to this story.

Notable departure

Last original leader resigns from Tennessee’s school turnaround district

The state-run Achievement School District began taking over schools in Memphis in 2012.

Margo Roen, who has been instrumental in recruiting local and national charter operators to Tennessee’s Achievement School District, has resigned as its deputy superintendent.

PHOTO: Achievement School District
Margo Roen

She said her departure, which is effective June 30, is not related to the State Department of Education’s plans to downsize and restructure the turnaround district by July 1.

“This decision (to leave) is an extremely hard one, and does not in any way diminish the immense belief I have in our schools and kids, and my admiration, appreciation, and respect for the ASD team, operators, and partners in this work,” Roen told Chalkbeat this week in an email.

With Roen’s departure, the ASD will lose its last original leader. She joined the state-run district in 2011 after its creation as part of Tennessee’s First to the Top plan. Superintendent Malika Anderson, who was once deputy to founding superintendent Chris Barbic, joined a few months later, along with Troy Williams, the ASD’s chief operating officer.

In addition to overseeing charter recruitment efforts, Roen has co-led the ASD’s Operator Advisory Council to give charter leaders more say in ASD decisions and collaborate across the district’s 33 schools.

Roen said she will remain in Memphis and plans to work on projects with school districts across the nation.