Six more Memphis schools to close; three others get one-year reprieve

The Board of Education for Shelby County Schools voted Tuesday evening to close three more Memphis schools and revoke the charters of three others, while opting to give three additional charter schools another year to improve their test scores.

All nine schools had been on the chopping block as part of cost-cutting and school improvement measures aimed at low-performing or under-enrolled schools. Ultimately, the board chose to close the three charters on the state’s priority list of the 5 percent of lowest-performing schools in Tennessee.

The board also approved plans to rezone two schools and reconfigure grades at one other as part of the district’s strategy to retain students at three struggling schools being taken over by the state-run Achievement School District. The changes could allow the shrinking district to partially plug the exodus of students — and per-pupil funding — to the state’s school turnaround district, which Shelby County officials say has contributed to the local district’s $86 million projected funding gap for next year.

Samone Nelson, 17, a junior at North Side High, asks the board to “leave our school open.” (Micaela Watts)

Proposed school closures and other cost-cutting measures drew a capacity crowd to the meeting, which was preceded by an hour-long public hearing.

In the end, the board voted quickly to close three district-run schools — Carver High, North Side High and Messick Adult Center — projected to save the district more than $3 million.

Charter schools being shuttered are Omni Prep Academy Lower and Middle schools and Southern Avenue Middle.

Charter schools spared next school year are KIPP Memphis Collegiate Middle and High schools and the Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering. Their status will be revisited in one year.

The split decision on charters reflected concern that the district does not have in place established criteria for closing charter schools.

“I’m not voting to close anything until we have a procedure in place,” said board member Chris Caldwell, who voted against all six proposed charter closures.

The issue of policies and procedures related to district-authorized charter schools arose on the same evening when the school board approved appointments to a new 27-member Charter Compact Advisory Committee, charged with forging a collaborative and coherent partnership between the district and its charter sector.

Caldwell said the committee will help establish the criteria used in future discussions about charter closures, among other things.

While school closings have become almost an annual tradition for the cash-strapped and under-enrolled district, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s recommendation to close nine schools, announced earlier this month, came as a surprise to many in the district’s charter sector, accelerating a process that usually takes a year or more.

“The timing of this is disappointing, especially as kids are taking exams,” said Cary Booker, founder of Omni Prep Schools. “… We are surprised and disappointed that we did not have more notification from the district about their concerns.”

The school board already has approved closing two other charter schools at the close of this school year due to underenrollment or mismanagement.