Six new Shelby County suburban districts will open their doors to students for the first time today.
For many, this marks the culmination of multiple years of effort which began in 2011 when Memphis City Schools’ board, and then its citizens, voted to surrender its charter. That forced Shelby County Schools to absorb the city’s thousands of students creating one of the largest districts in the country. After several legislative and legal battles, six municipalities managed to split from Shelby County Schools and create their own school systems, voting in their own school boards late last year.
“You’ve elected us twice. You voted on the referendum twice,” said Bartlett board member David Cook, at a celebration on Saturday. “You put up with all the shenanigans of Memphis and Shelby County and all the crazy politics for three years.”
Since January, the school boards have raced to hire superintendents, create policy handbooks and retain and recruit students and the tax dollars that come with them. They created several partnerships with each other to save money, most notably, transportation. They learned early on that collaborating with each other won’t come easy.
Their biggest challenge will be academic. Several of the districts’ standardized test scores lag similar districts across the state and all will be tasked with closing a wide achievement gap between white and black students.
Municipal district leaders believe local control will help them accomplish that.
“Now that we get to decide things for ourselves and not what’s best for the greater good of all of Shelby County Schools, some things are going to be different and some things are going to be more focused,” said Germantown Superintendent Jason Manuel.
Chalkbeat TN used public records to compile data about the districts’ academics, demographics and operations.
The data isn’t a perfect representation of the districts because some students are changing schools this year. But by and large, most students who attended a municipal school before, will still be attending a municipal school now.