Plans to transform East High School into a STEM school, including a focus on transportation, are advancing as Shelby County Schools seeks to feed potential employees to Memphis’ booming distribution industry — and save one of its most iconic schools.
Members of a school board panel on academic performance expressed support Tuesday of a plan to phase in the program beginning with ninth-graders next school year. Students in grades 10-12 would stay at East through graduation.
The redesign doesn’t require school board approval, but board members would need to sign off on rezoning rising ninth-graders. District leaders said that would need to happen by December when marketing materials for optional schools are printed.
The T-STEM school would be the first all-optional high school in Shelby County Schools. It also would mean that the historic institution in midtown Memphis would no longer be a neighborhood school.
East is under-enrolled and in danger of appearing on Tennessee’s priority list of schools performing in the state’s bottom 5 percent. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the school is in danger of closing or state takeover if the district doesn’t intercede with a revitalization plan.
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District leaders said they will work with the school’s community to figure out the specifics, although the change was met with resistance at a recent neighborhood meeting. Alumni and parents were especially concerned about the possibility of busing neighborhood kids to other schools.
Specifics on testing and GPA requirements to attend a T-STEM school have not been determined, but Hopson expressed support for establishing entrance exams similar to the district’s other optional schools, a requirement that would have been banned if the district had received a $6 million federal grant for the project.
The district didn’t win the grant, and Chief Academic Officer Heidi Ramirez says financial support could come from local employers such as FedEx and AutoZone.
A STEM program emphasizing transportation could help prepare workers for the city’s distribution and logistics industry. Centrally located and the world headquarters of FedEx, Memphis is also a hub for UPS, USPS and numerous trucking companies.