Memphis’ Humes school, Elvis Presley’s alma mater, is closing after yearslong turnaround attempt

A metal sign that reads "Humes Middle" sits outside of a tall, red brick building with greenery and trees in the foreground and on the sides.
Humes Middle School in North Memphis will close at the end of this school year, in a last-minute decision by Memphis-Shelby County Schools. The closure coincides with the end of Humes' charter under the state's takeover district for low-performing schools. (Caroline Bauman / Chalkbeat)

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Humes Middle School in North Memphis will close at the end of this school year as it returns to the Memphis Shelby-County district’s control after a decade in Tennessee’s failed turnaround district for low-performing schools.

The last-minute decision to shutter the nearly 100-year-old building, where a young Elvis Presley attended high school, is a change in plans since the fall, when teachers were told the school would stay open, said Bobby White, head of Frayser Community Schools, the charter company that runs Humes for the state’s Achievement School District.

“I just wish it had been sooner,” White said of the decision.

The school has long struggled with low enrollment. Students will be rezoned to Booker T. Washington, a grade 6-12 school 3 miles away in South Memphis, according to Memphis-Shelby County Schools documents.

The decision, shared with families and staff in recent days, happened with little to no public discussion in the community or by the school board. And the prospect of students having to shift to a faraway school has some education leaders concerned.

White and district leaders have known for years that they would need a plan for Humes’ students and the building. Schools like Humes that are taken over by the state typically spend a maximum of 10 years in the ASD.

A white and orange sign that reads "Humes Preparatory Academy: This is our community 100% Team Humes" sits outside of a brick building.
Students set to attend Humes Middle School will be rezoned to Booker T. Washington, a school for grades 6-12 in South Memphis, about 3 miles away. (Caroline Bauman / Chalkbeat)

Humes is one of five Memphis schools that are reaching the end of their 10-year term this summer. Of the other four, one will remain open and operated by MSCS, one received approval to operate under another state-run charter district, and one will continue to operate as a charter school under MSCS.

The fourth, MLK College Prep High School, operated by the Frayser charter network, is also set to close in its current building, but families have received more regular communication from the Memphis district about the changes there. MLK is set to merge with Trezevant High in the fall while a new neighborhood high school is built.

Meanwhile, the Humes community has been waiting for clarity. Last summer, the Memphis district rejected White’s application to continue running the school under Frayser Community Schools.

“When you’re dealing with poor, marginalized folks,” White said, “you respect them enough to communicate with them as soon as possible, and think through things in a way where they’re going to be valued and respected, where you’re doing right by them.”

For Humes, conversations changed after the district faced renewed concerns about the physical condition of the building, which turns 100 years old next year. When another charter school inquired about leasing the building during a January board meeting, then interim Superintendent Toni Williams said the building had “major issues.”

Around that time, Chalkbeat reported that a draft plan for all district schools suggested that Humes would close. Still, the district hadn’t communicated any new plans to Humes teachers and families since an earlier fall meeting, said White.

MSCS did not respond to Chalkbeat’s inquiries in time for the publication of this story. During a meeting with board members Tuesday, Superintendent Marie Feagins said the district reviewed several factors including the capacity of the buildings. Feagins, who became district leader on April 1, told board members she was under the impression the news about Humes had already been shared.

A wooden frame surround a high school diploma for Elvis Presley.
Elvis Presley is a graduate of Humes, which was once operated as a high school. The building, which is nearly 100 years old, is on the National Register of Historic Places. (Marta W. Aldrich / Chalkbeat)

The building is on the National Register of Historic Places because of Presley, who graduated in 1953 from Humes when it was a high school.

But enrollment at Humes has remained low since even before it was taken over by the state. It can serve more than 1,300 students, but only 193 are enrolled. A previous charter operator, Gestalt Community Schools, also struggled with low enrollment at Humes.

White says the district’s plans to send students from Humes’ zone out of the neighborhood for middle school could result in lower enrollment at Manassas High School in North Memphis.

Memphis board members Stephanie Love, who has kept a focus on schools in the turnaround district, and Michelle McKissack, whose district includes Humes, Manassas, and Booker T. Washington, both said the board should revisit the district’s policy on school zoning.

“The culture in South Memphis and North Memphis is not the same,” Love said, adding that she understands why families and teachers could be upset by the last-minute closure.

The district and board face more decisions about remaining Memphis schools in the ASD, as their charters expire in the next two years. The takeover district itself could wind down, too.

In a letter to parents, Feagins suggested that they consider Cummings K-8 Optional School and Grandview Heights Middle School as alternatives to Booker T. Washington. White said some of the students have considered nearby charter school options as well, including KIPP Collegiate Middle or Frayser Community Schools’ Westside Middle.

The district is holding online meetings for family members on April 17 at 12:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. A community meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at the Porter Leath location at 628 Alice Avenue.

Laura Testino covers Memphis-Shelby County Schools for Chalkbeat Tennessee. Reach Laura at

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