Memphis schools chief a finalist for national school leadership award for city districts

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson is a finalist for a national award from an organization that honors outstanding leadership and student achievement.

The Green-Garner award is the top prize for urban school leadership from the Council of Great City Schools, a Washington D.C.-based group of urban school districts that share data on best practices in academics and operations.

Superintendents from Denver, El Paso, Miami, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Charlotte, and New York City also are finalists. The winner will receive a $10,000 college scholarship for a student in their district.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson joined school board members and teachers in 2016 to celebrate a new school supplies depot for teachers in Shelby County Schools. (Caroline Bauman)

Hopson is in his sixth year as superintendent of the Memphis district and has overseen a tumultuous era. Six suburban towns split from the school system in 2014, and the district lost about 30,000 students. At the same time, the state-run Achievement School District began taking over low-performing schools, further draining the school system of students and resources. Financial stress and low enrollment led to program cuts and the closure of almost two dozen schools to make up for huge budget deficits.

But in the last two years, Hopson started off in the black and invested millions back into classroom initiatives. During his tenure, the district’s program for improving low-performing schools, the Innovation Zone, has boosted test scores and become a national model for school turnaround.

The award is named in memory of Richard R. Green, the first African American chancellor of the New York City school system, and businessman Edward Garner, who served on the Denver school board, said a council spokesman.

The Shelby County Schools board has worked with the organization to craft a “theory of action” to empower school officials to determine where resources should go, and de-emphasize decisions made by the district.

The winner will be announced at the council’s 62nd annual fall conference Thursday, Oct. 25 in Baltimore.