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


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.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.