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Here’s to a New Beginning for Memphis and SCS

August 3, 2013

Hear the bells? Monday is the first day of school for students at the new entity with the old name: Shelby County Schools.

A  compelling case can be made that the forced merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools was an exercise in bullying politics that succeeded only  in squandering massive amounts  of  taxpayer dollars and human capital, while  further polarizing City and County residents.

But as Mattie Dear* used to say, “Be of good cheer. God is in the plan.”

Good things have happened as a result of the consolidation process.  Two and a half years of  news coverage and water cooler buzz  persuaded most area parents, grandparents and non-parents  that all children in Greater Memphis are “our” children. What they learn and how well they learn – whether in public schools, private schools or in home schools –  will not only shape their individual destinies, but the  future of the Memphis metropolitan area.

high school students

What they become will determine what Memphis becomes. It is every citizen’s responsibility to ensure that every student is in a learning environment that is safe, challenging, and competitive with the best schools on the planet. It will be a long, tough road to get there, but we can and must stay the course.


We all owe a debt of gratitude to the  civic leaders who served on the Transition Planning Commission and the unified school board.  They worked endless hours, weathered stormy meetings, endured countless critical attacks (including one from Back in River City), and made tough decisions. When the final bell rang, they had completed their work and proposed a budget that was less than the combined budgets of the prior school systems.

Eddie and I had the honor of meeting and interviewing  13 of the 14 unified school board candidates who ran in  August 2012.  (See Back in River City ‘s  2012 Voters Guide.) These races determined who would represent the freshly-drawn seven super districts during the pre-consolidation transitional year (September 2012-August 2013) and the first year of the consolidated school system. ** As recently returned Memphians, we were excited by the commitment and professional caliber of all of the candidates. The seven*** victors  – Chairman Billy Orgel, Chris Caldwell, Teresa Jones, David Reaves, Kevin Woods, David Pickler, and Reginald Porter, Jr. represented varied viewpoints and neighborhoods. They have served honorably. We are proud of them and look forward to their leadership as the new Shelby County Schools creates a legacy of continuous progress toward a goal of world-class excellence.

And speaking of proud . . .

photo credit: Commercial Appeal

photo credit: Commercial Appeal

Our heartiest congratulations to Reginald Porter, Jr., who was recruited from his school board position to become the new Chief of Staff for Shelby County Schools. Watch his recent interview with Alex Coleman and Marybeth Conley on WREG’s Live at 9 here:

Here’s to a new beginning for our public school system. It will be a year of transition, a shotgun marriage with a quickie divorce pending for the six municipalities. Let’s use this time to get to know and respect one another a little better. Let’s set a good example, rise above the whole City-County thing, and keep focused on what’s best for our children. Respect our school leaders, support our teachers, and love and pray for our students. They are our future.

school children

The Rest of the Story (Notes)

*Memphians of a Certain Age (let’s call ourselves MOCAs) recall Mattie Dear as a beloved frequent contributor to Eldon Roark’s “Strolling” column  in the old Memphis Press-Scimitar. An African American born on a Mississippi plantation in 1884, she wrote for the Clarksville Daily Press. Her book  The Writings of Mattie Dear: the homely philosophy of a Negro woman on a Mississippi plantation was published by Delta Press in 1945.

**The Shelby County Commission hopes to increase the school board to 13 members, an option included in the 2011 consent decree resolving the lawsuit over consolidation of the Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools. The school board and municipals’  attorneys object, the latter alleging that the County Commission intends to use the additional six members to ensure the dominance of city interests on all school board issues. They  want Federal District Judge Hardy Mays to limit the number of seats  to seven until September 1, 2014, when the pending municipal districts expect to  be in place.  The Shelby County Election Commission says that an election for the six additional seats could not be held earlier than December 5, 2013. The County Commission believes it holds the right to appoint the additional members. At this writing, Judge Mays has not ruled on the County Commission’s right to expand the school board by appointment rather than election.

*** Dr. Kenneth Whalum, Jr. ran against Kevin Woods for the new District 4  position while holding an MCS slot on the unified school board. He lost the District 4 race but continued to serve on the 23-member transitional board. His seat will expire on September 1, 2013. Dr. Whalum contested the District 4 election over an improper ballots issue. A Chancery Court ruling on those election results has been pending since May.

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