Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson will visit 20 of his lowest-performing schools and the communities around them beginning in January, to discuss the challenges those schools face and how parents, teachers, and the community can band together to prevent state takeovers.
“Parents were only hearing from us when the discussion is about school closure or takeover,” Hopson said last week. He said too many parents are unaware their child attends a low performing school. “When we start the conversation by looking at the test score data, it should be pretty sobering to see.”
The district hasn’t organized such early conversations up to now. Hopson said he hopes the information will empower more parents and community volunteers to get involved in helping students with tutoring and other academic assistance. He said he hopes robust community partnerships could help schools improve enough to be removed from the state list or avoid it all together.
Hopson has not selected which schools he will visit, but it will be a mix of schools already on the state’s priority list for low performance and schools that could come under the Achievement School District’s 2016-17 takeover process. Hopson has also tapped school board members and the teachers’ association to be a part of spreading the message. The ASD announced its crop of potential takeover schools for 2015-16 last month, and will make a final decision about those schools Dec. 12.
Hopson said he realized that parents had not been informed about their schools’ performance in the wake of contentious meetings in October at several schools involved in the ASD’s takeover “matching process.” Parental protests of the state’s takeover process spilled over into the Shelby County’s board meeting in October.
“Our parents need to be informed about the school takeover process and where to take their complaints,” said school board Chairwoman Teresa Jones. “The ASD is authorized by state law, which means parents need to address our legislators. That is how they can begin to change the takeover process.”
One effort, the Concerned Parents for Education, has vowed to become involved in Hopson’s upcoming school performance meetings. The group is made up of about a dozen parents of Shelby County students frustrated by the loss of schools to the state takeover process.
Beverly Davis, a Whitehaven High School parent and member of the parent group, said she wishes more parents were involved and were aware of the district’s low-performing schools.
“I don’t know why more parents don’t know this already,” Davis said.
Davis said the group is against the takeover of several Shelby County Schools named by the ASD this year including A. Maceo Walker Middle School, where the principal and administration are in their first year at the school.
“They haven’t been given the chance to turn things around and the takeover will displace the seventh and eighth graders,” Davis said.
School board member Stephanie Love believes more parents should know about a school’s academic record – even if an unintended consequence means the district loses students through school choice.
“We have to hold ourselves accountable and the blame game is over,” Love said. “The lines of communication needs to be open and the truth about our schools should be discussed in a way that all parents can understand.”