Shelby County Schools

Shelby County board extends Hopson’s contract, shares first evaluation

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has overseen Shelby County Schools since the 2013 merger of Memphis City Schools and the legacy Shelby County district.

The Shelby County school board extended superintendent Dorsey Hopson II’s contract for an additional two years after sharing their positive evaluation of his performance during a board meeting on Monday.

The decision to renew Hopson’s contract was both a signal of the board’s confidence in Hopson and a commitment to focus on academics in the coming school year, said board member Teresa Jones. “There was a desire to have continuity,” Jones said.

Hopson’s new contract begins July 1 of this year and will last until June 30, 2018. The previous contract would have expired in 2016. The new contract does not change Hopson’s $269,000 annual salary. Hopson is eligible for a raise whenever district employees receive a raise, though he can also be awarded a bonus by the board. His contract also includes $500,000 in life insurance and a district-provided vehicle.

After the meeting, Hopson said that he hopes to shift the district’s focus toward academics. The board spent almost two years preparing for the merging of the Memphis City school district with suburban Shelby County Schools and responding to suburban leaders’ subsequent plans to create six new districts carved out of the merged Shelby County Schools. The district has also lost a number of its chronically-underperforming schools to a new state-run district. This past spring, Hopson led the district through its largest series of school closings in recent history before cutting more than $200 million from its budget.

“I remain humble,” he said. “Such incredible work has been done.”

Board members said that having this board extend the contract would be beneficial. School board elections later this summer could bring a majority of new members onto the board.

“This board is uniquely qualified,” Jones said. “We have gone from the 23-member board to this seven-member board, and some will go forward to the new nine-member board.”

In his first evaluation, Hopson earned high marks for his ability to get support from community members and other stakeholders and for his calm approach to working through tough issues.

“This is an extremely strong evaluation,” said Henry Evans, a consultant with Germantown-based Centre Group, which conducted the 52-question survey about the superintendent’s performance in several areas.

The main concerns board members raised in the evaluation were that key positions, including chief financial officer and chief academic officer, have been left unfilled; that technology in the district should be improved; and that items to be voted on were not always presented to the board in a timely fashion.

Others have pointed out that Hopson, a lawyer, is not an educator by trade. Several commenters raised that concern at Monday night’s meeting.

“Thanks for your work; now pass it on to an educator,” said Claudette Boyd, a grandparent of Shelby County Schools students. Boyd also raised concerns about the growing state-run Achievement School District and the district’s embrace of charter schools.

“Mr. Hopson did a great job with the merger and demerger because they were legal issues,”  said Valerie Grifith, a citizen who spoke during public comments. “But this isn’t a John Grisham novel. We need an educator.”

National experts have said that a superintendent’s working relationship with the board is as important as their education background, especially in large urban districts. They point out, however, that appropriate academic expertise is necessary within the district.

Board member Chris Caldwell highlighted the fact that Hopson had accepted a contract that does not guarantee him a large “buy-out” if his contract is terminated ahead of schedule. Previous superintendents, including former superintendent Kriner Cash, have received large buy-outs, which concerned some observers of the cash-strapped district.

Board member David Reaves said that though he had been skeptical of having a superintendent without a background in education, he had been won over by Hopson’s “hard skills as an attorney” and “excellent” soft skills.

“We’ve had educators from outside of this area who have failed the school system…I think we need stability,” he said.

Board member Shante Avant said she believed keeping Hopson in his role would allow the district to achieve a lofty set of academic goals recently adopted by the board aimed at increasing the district’s graduation rate and better preparing students for college and careers. “We need someone who can be here for the long haul,” she said.

Board member Jones said, “I do not take lightly the vacant C.A.O. position. But I know we’re making strides to address that…I do not always agree with his recommendations but I separate that from whether I think he’s the person we should support.”

Board member Billy Orgel singled out how calmly Hopson had handled difficulties at the beginning of last school year, when some buses were not running on time. “You didn’t point fingers. That’s leadership,” he said.

Board member Kevin Woods said he felt the superintendent could compensate for his lack of education background. “You’re surrounded by educators,” Woods said. “You’re the right person for this job.”

The six present board members unanimously approved the contract. Board member David Pickler was absent.
Hopson’s new contract:

Hopson’s previous contract:

Part of Hopson’s evaluation:

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

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