Developer vows to bring back ‘better plan’ after pulling proposal for landfill near Memphis elementary school

PHOTO: Katie Kull
A sign hangs on a fence surrounding the property where a proposed landfill expansion would get even closer to a nearby Memphis elementary school.

A Memphis developer is retreating — for now — from its second proposal to expand a landfill near an elementary school after again drawing the ire of residents in the city’s Frayser community.

However, a spokeswoman for Memphis Wrecking Co. said Wednesday that the developer expects “to come back with a better plan.”

The company announced it has pulled its application to expand near Whitney Achievement Elementary School one day before the proposal was scheduled to go before the Shelby County Land Use Control Board.

The decision came after several months of dialogue with local residents, said company planner Brenda Solomito Basar.

“This process has been extremely valuable and has inspired us to keep working and to come back with a better plan,” she said in a news release.

Contacted later, Basar said a “plan is in the works” based on discussions with residents, but that she could not provide details.

“All I can say is there were a lot of good insights in meetings with the neighbors about different things they will like to see, so we are going to explore those ideas and come back with a better plan,” she said.

This is the second time that Memphis Wrecking Co. has backed off from plans to expand its Frayser landfill. Last June, the company pulled its application following media reports about the company’s desire to expand its landfill for demolition material on 34 acres adjacent to the school, with a buffer of about 25 acres.

As they did last year, company officials argued that the debris has to go somewhere and that this landfill would not hold household materials or hazardous waste. And as they did last year, school and community advocates argued that an elementary school where children study and play isn’t an appropriate neighbor for a landfill.

With 440 students, Whitney Achievement Elementary School serves children who are mostly black and from low-income families in one of the city’s most economically depressed areas. The school is operated by the state-run Achievement School District.

At a recent community forum, Frayser residents expressed concern about blight in their community and questioned whether the landfill would have been proposed as a neighbor for schools in more affluent neighborhoods.

Tim Ware, executive director for Achievement Schools, has been among the most vocal opponents of the proposal.

“The message from Frayser is that the expansion of a trash pile next door to a school as great as Whitney Elementary is diametrically opposed to the best interests of the community,” Ware told Chalkbeat earlier this week.

The company’s website offers specifics about its proposal here.


Editor’s note: This story has been updated to add that the proposed expansion includes a 25-acre buffer from the school and to add a link to the company’s proposal.

change up

Just as Lower East Side integration plan takes off, superintendent who helped craft it steps down

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Carry Chan, left, will become acting superintendent in District 1 when Daniella Phillips, right, leaves this month to join the central education department.

The longtime superintendent of the Manhattan community district where parents pushed for a plan to desegregate the local schools is stepping down just as the plan gets underway.

After a decade at the helm of District 1, which includes the Lower East Side and East Village, Superintendent Daniella Phillips is leaving to join the central education department, Chalkbeat has learned. During the yearslong campaign for an integration plan, Phillips acted as a liaison between parents and the education department, which finally approved a new admissions system for the district’s elementary schools this fall.

She will be replaced by Carry Chan, who has also played a role in the district’s diversity efforts as the interim head of a new Family Resource Center, an information hub to help district parents sort through their school options. Chan takes over as acting superintendent on Dec. 18.

The leadership changes comes at a crucial time for the district, which also includes a portion of Chinatown. Parents are currently applying to elementary schools, marking the first admissions cycle under the new enrollment system. Under the system, schools give certain students admissions priority based on their economic status and other factors, with the goal of every elementary school enrolling share of disadvantaged students similar to the district average.

It will be up to the new superintendent to help schools recruit and welcome a greater mix of families, and to help steer parents towards a wider range of schools. Advocates hope the district can become a model for the city.

“There is a torch that needs to be carried in order to really, fully execute,” said Naomi Peña, president of the district’s parent council. “The next superintendent has to be a champion for the mission and the cause.”

During heated public meetings, Phillips tried to keep the peace while serving as a go-between for frustrated integration advocates and reluctant education department officials. The tensions sometimes boiled over, with advocates directing their anger at Phillips — though they were eventually won-over and endorsed the final integration plan.

In her new role, she will oversee school consolidations as part of the education department’s Office of School Design and Charter Partnerships. In District 1, Phillips helped steer three such mergers, which often involve combining small, low-performing schools with ones that are higher achieving.

“It has been such a joy and privilege to be District 1 superintendent for over 10 years, and I’m excited for this next chapter in the district and my career,” Phillips said in an emailed statement.

Chan is a former principal who launched the School for Global Leaders, a middle school that focuses on community service projects and offers Mandarin classes. Last year, she joined the education department’s Manhattan support center, where she helped schools form partnerships in order to learn from one another.

Since October, Chan has served as the interim director of District 1’s Family Resource Center, which is seen as an integral part of making the new diversity plan work. Families must apply for seats in the district’s elementary schools, which do not have attendance zones like other districts. The family center aims to arm families with more information about their options, in the hopes that they will consider schools they may not have previously.

“I think we’re all really passionate about this plan and we really want this to work,” Chan said. “Communication is the key, and being transparent with how we’re progressing with this work.”

more sleeping time

Jeffco schools will study pushing back high school start times

Wheat Ridge High School teacher, Stephanie Rossi, left, teaching during her sophomore AP U.S. History class September 25, 2014. (Photo By Andy Cross / The Denver Post)

Jeffco Public Schools will convene a study group this spring to look at whether high school students should start school later in the mornings.

“People started raising it to me when I started doing the listening tour as something they were interested in,” said Jeffco Superintendent Jason Glass. “We’re going to study it.”

Glass said plans call for a task force to meet about eight times over more than a year to come up with recommendations on whether the district should change high school start times, and if so, if it should be district-wide or only in some schools.

The group would need to consider the potential ripple effects of later high school start times, including needing to change transportation, possible costs to the district and the impact it could have on students’ opportunities for work, sports or other after-school activities.

The Cherry Creek and Greeley-Evans school districts moved their high school start times later in the morning this fall. Research has shown that teenagers need more sleep. It’s that research that Glass said many people cited in telling him that high school classes shouldn’t start so early.

District officials are tentatively scheduling a public meeting on February 12 to start the process. The task force would likely be created after that meeting based on people who show interest.

Glass said that if the group suggests the district push back start times, he would expect a decision before the start of the 2019-2020 school year.