Shelby County’s school board approved a set of ambitious goals for the district’s graduation rate and academic progress at its monthly meeting Tuesday. The district is aiming to have 80 percent of its students graduating “college- and career-ready,” 90 percent of its students graduating overall, and 100 percent of students who are college- and career-ready heading to postsecondary opportunities by 2025.

The Shelby County school system, which will include Memphis and parts of unincorporated Shelby County next year, has a long way to go to reach those goals: Last year, some 6 percent of Memphis students were deemed college-ready as measured by the ACT, and 40 percent of seniors who graduate don’t attend college or pursue another postsecondary option.

“Someone said vision without execution is hallucination,” Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II said Tuesday. “We need to be very specific about how we’re getting where we need to be.”

Board members applauded the plan, and encouraged the district to set benchmarks along the way. “I commend (the) superintendent and staff for working to present something we’ve been talking about for months…but we need to think about 3rd grade, 7th grade, 9th grade. There should be some incremental change and growth each year,” said Shante Avant.

Just how the district will achieve its new goals is not yet clear. The district is planning to hold two community meetings – on Tuesday, May 13 and Thursday, May 15 – to discuss the goals.

The district included a timeline for the plan in the board’s agenda that includes:

  • By April: Establish a “theory of action” to drive its planning process. The district cites Charlotte Mecklenburg, Hartford, and Cleveland as urban districts with model plans.
  • By May: Define college and career ready, establish a community partnership with Strive, and engage key stakeholders
  • By June: Set a starting point by conducting research into student needs, an analysis of teacher performance, conduct a fiscal analysis, and hold community conversations about the plan
  • By July: Develop a performance management framework
  • By December: “Agree to core district functions, organizational structure, and role assignment” that reflect the theory of action.

The timeline also highlights challenges that may arise in the plan, including teacher capacity and distribution, data capabilities, and attitudes toward data.

According to the timeline, the district plans to create “strategy teams” focused on innovation, academics, student support services, talent, institutional advancement, finance, and operations. The innovation team is tasked with using the “framework of a portfolio district,” which could eventually entail a smaller central office and more school-level decision-making about budget, curriculum, staffing, and more.

The 80-90-100 plan was first discussed publicly at the district’s board retreat earlier this year. District chief innovation officer Brad Leon then presented the plan to reporters earlier this month and announced the district’s partnership with Strive Mid-South, a group that plans to connect community organizations working with students to district resources and information and coordinate education improvement efforts in Memphis.

“Setting forth the goal anchors the system on where we need to go,” Leon said at that meeting.

At the Tuesday meeting, the board honored a number of successful students. The meeting began with a presentation of student art, and board members described visiting a number of schools. The board also honored the nationally ranked girls’  chess team at Douglass K-8 and an academic bowl team from White Station High School.

“You are an example of everything that’s right in public education,” superintendent Dorsey Hopson II told the Douglass chess team. He said the students’ successes demonstrated how local students could achieve lofty goals.

Annetta Fields, a Shelby County teacher, voiced concern at the meeting about setting the target for 2025. “What are we doing for those in poverty today?” she asked board members.

She said she was concerned about growing class sizes and about special education students in the district.

Mark Sturgis, the executive director of Strive Mid-South, and Barbara Prescott, the executive director of the PeopleFirst Partnership, both spoke during the public comment section of the meeting to voice their support for the district’s 80-90-100 plan. 

“The community stands with you,” Sturgis said.

“We’d like to commend you for this, but also to offer you our support as part of Memphis Fast Forward [a mayorally-created city improvement initiative involving local businesses],” Prescott said.

Board member David Reaves asked Hopson how the district would sustain the plan until 2025. “How do we ensure this plan lives and breathes even if we turn over? How do we get other government bodies behind us? … We need to look to leaders who’ll support education goals, to support people who will support these objectives over next 10 years.”

Hopson said the district might create a group focused on garnering that support.

Board chair Kevin Woods said the plan should guide the district’s future options. “Everything you guys bring to us needs to tie back to the strategic plan,” he said.

Woods he was optimistic about the plan. “People are sick and tired of having kids graduate high school and not be ready for jobs.”

Board members also suggested that superintendent Hopson’s evaluation goals be tied to the new strategic plan.

Community Meetings: 

  • Tuesday, May 13, 6pm  SCS Board Auditorium, 160 South Hollywood, Memphis TN 38112
  • Thursday, May 15, 6pm – Boys & Girls Club Technical Training Center, 903 Walker Avenue, Memphis TN 38106