A huge academic plan that’s meant to “reset” Tennessee’s largest school district is out for review.
District leaders on Tuesday gave Shelby County Schools board members a first copy of an academic blueprint that’s been shepherded by Sharon Griffin, who was named chief of schools last year.
The plan is the first for the Memphis district since the 2013 merger of city and county schools, and its goal is to get the district on track to reach its Destination 2025 goals, an ambitious plan introduced in 2015. (We have included a full copy of the draft of the academic plan at the bottom of this article).
“This is a kind of reset for the district,” Griffin said. “But it’s not a reset in saying we did everything wrong. We had pockets of success, but we need to make sure we’re giving everyone the support they need.”
Board members will have two weeks to sift through the 130-page plan and make recommendations, and the district is aiming to present a finalized version of the plan at the board work session on April 17. The district will begin training teachers on the academic plan this summer.
Some board members expressed concern that it’s taken three years since the launch of Destination 2025 to create something like this, and that time has been wasting. Board member Teresa Jones said she feels that the district has said too often that a new direction or strategic plan didn’t work, and she doesn’t want to repeat that conversation.
“I hope we won’t have another session saying we didn’t implement this, we didn’t explain it well enough to teachers, because at some point we have to do work,” Jones said. “We’re in year three, and we can no longer afford it.”
Griffin has said the academic plan has been in the works for the past year so that the district could incorporate community feedback. It won’t change the goals of Destination 2025 — which aims to raise reading levels, graduation rates, and career readiness — but rather, will help the district better understand the “how” in reaching those marks.
Still, the challenge of progress toward those goals is massive. About 21 percent of third graders read on grade level under the more rigorous state standards, down from 30 percent in 2015 when Shelby County Schools Destination 2025. The 2025 goal is that 90 percent of district third-graders would be on grade level. The district’s average ACT score is 17.8, about three points lower than what is considered the college-ready threshold.
Griffin says strengthening early literacy, in particular, is a major priority for the academic plan.
Proposed initiatives in the plan to strengthen early literacy include: Prioritizing filling teacher vacancies in grades K-2, adopting a “knowledge-based curriculum,” and providing early literacy training to all elementary teachers, according to a presentation to the board.
“Why is early literacy important?” Griffin asked the board members. “We’re not going to forget about our 3-12 grades, but we have to stop the bleeding.”
Board member Shante Avant said she hopes the district won’t lose focus on foundational skills in the pursuit of bolstering early literacy.
“We focus so much on early literacy, but I haven’t heard what we’re doing to strengthen foundational skills,” Avant said. “ I do have a concern there.”
You can read all 130 pages of the new academic plan below: