Municipality Split

Shelby County Schools’ proposed rezoning plan reflects goal to keep students in district

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat
Students outside a school that's part of the state-run Achievement School District.

At a school board meeting Wednesday, Shelby County Schools administrators proposed a plan to redistrict thousands of students from the county’s patchwork of unincorporated areas to reflect changing boundaries shaped by plans for six new suburban school districts.

The proposal was the latest skirmish in an ongoing war between recently-merged Shelby County Schools, which includes the former Memphis City district, and six municipalities that are scrambling to split from the behemoth district and form their own school systems in the next six months, about who should educate which students.

The Shelby County district and the municipalities (Germantown, Collierville, Millington, Arlington, Bartlett and Cordova) reached agreements about which district will run which schools in December, but only after months of heated debates and to the chagrin of many Germantown residents, who lost three flagship schools.

Since then, the municipalities have made attempts to convince parents who live on the outer edges of Memphis or in unincorporated Shelby County to transfer their children into the new districts next year.

At stake are millions of state tax dollars that follow students to the schools they attend. Both districts could use the money.

Municipality officials are trying to avoid burdening suburban homeowners with even higher property and sales taxes if enrollment estimates don’t meet their expectations. Shelby County Schools officials are working to close a $24 million budget deficit caused by the expected loss of students to the municipalities, austerity cuts and students transferring to charter schools and the state-run Achievement School District (ASD).

The success of their efforts isn’t yet clear. The regional superintendent for Germantown Elementary, which will remain part of Shelby County Schools, said that of families who had completed a survey, 85 were intending to remain in the school, 75 said are undecided, and 30 intended to leave the school. She said that those numbers were in flux, as optional school programs in Shelby County Schools affected some parents’ decision to go and stay.

Uncertainty also reigns near Bartlett, where students now enrolled at Bartlett Elementary would be sent to Dexter Elementary school according to the plan. “We don’t know how many students will choose to stay or go if they have an opportunity to stay in Bartlett,” said Denise Sharpe, the district’s planner. While these families live, in some instances, just blocks from what will soon be considered municipal schools, they are technically in Shelby County Schools’ boundaries, meaning the district is obligated to provide their children with an education.

Shelby County Schools board members have yet to vote on the plans.

The district’s plan, detailed in a 26-page power-point presentation, shows changes that affect thousands of students scattered throughout Shelby County, many of whom are now in schools that are slated to become part of the municipal school districts. Students will have to travel as far as 14 miles, according to district planner Sharpe. Two schools in rural areas will be converted to K-8 schools.

Though some of the schools in the northeast part of the district will be at more than 100 percent of their capacity due to the plan, Sharpe said principals were prepared to deal with the new students.

The rezoning proposal also includes a plan to send students currently zoned to Memphis’ Fairview Middle School to Hamilton and Sherwood Middle Schools in order to make room for a new optional school in the Fairview building.

Board members raised concerns about the rezoning proposals and asked for some changes. Board member David Reaves questioned the efficiency of the proposal involving students near Collierville. Board member Teresa Jones wondered if community voice was factored into any of the decisions.

Jones, board member Shante Avant, and board member Billy Orgel questioned whether the new optional school at Fairview should be optional-only or whether it should also admit neighborhood students.

The board will likely discuss rezoning plans again during its business meeting next week. Hopson’s administration has proposed at least five tentative rezoning public hearings on the issue. The board did not indicate when they would vote on the issue.

The proposed rezoning plan could reduce transportation costs for the district, but Hopson said that once the district factors in its state funding, which will largely depend on enrollment, any savings could be a “wash.”

A few board members expressed concern that a rezoning plan may drive parents to a municipal district if students are bused too far from home.

Board chair Kevin Woods suggested creating an “inter-local agreement” with Collierville schools to educate some students zoned to SCS.

“We don’t know who is going to show up and it’s tough to plan for that,” said Hopson after Wednesday’s meeting. “We’re competing with the municipalities, charters and the ASD.”

<a href=””>SCS DistrictWide Rezonings Board Work 2 19 14 (PDF)</a></p><br /><br /><br />
<p><a href=””>SCS DistrictWide Rezonings Board Work 2 19 14 (Text)</a><br /><br /><br /><br />

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

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.”