Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Planning Commission Decides How Merged Memphis & Shelby County Schools Will Be Run


The people charged with planning the merger of Memphis and Shelby County Schools settled on an organizational structure for the new district last night.

The 21-member Transition Planning Commission was actually scheduled to vote on an organizational structure last week. Two options were on the table.

The first was a “unified district.” In a unified district, the primary decision-making power rests with the superintendent, which is similar to the way both Memphis and Shelby County Schools are run right now.

The second option on the table was a “portfolio model.” In the portfolio model, the primary decision-making power rests with an individual school. Think: a system of schools, instead of a school system. The purest example of a portfolio model is what has happened in post Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, where more than 70 percent of kids in the “district” attend charter schools.

But when it came time to pick between the two structures last week, the planning commission demurred. Instead they asked to be presented with a blend of both models. That’s what they got this week. And they approved it unanimously with one abstention.

The blended organizational model is called “The Multiple Achievement Paths Model.”

It’s summarized by the diagram above. The merged district will be divided into six geographical regions, with approximately the same number of students in each region. Most likely there will be four regions in the city of Memphis and two in the county outside it.

All schools will have some autonomy.

“I’m sure that principals would have some say as to what teachers are in their schools,” said Transition Planning Commission Chair Barbara Prescott. 

And some schools will have more autonomy, awarded by the district—either for proven academic performance, or because district leaders have a lot of faith in the school’s principal.

“It could go all the way up to managing their full budget. Or elongating the school day,” Prescott said.

There will be an Office of Innovation for low-performing schools run by the district and some charter schools. And finally there will be some schools run by the State of Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD). The achievement district was created as a part of the state’s application to get federal “Race to the Top” money and it is a state-run district for the lowest performing five percent of schools in the state.

The blended organization isn’t a one-size-fits-all model. Schools will be able to make choices about what they think is best for their students. But the blend also provides the superintendent with some control, because even schools operating autonomously will be accountable for producing results.

The Transition Planning Commission has also approved its educational priorities for the merged district. They’re also in graphic form above. Between now and when the commission presents its full plan for approval by the unified school board and the state, at the end of the summer, there will be many more decisions and details to be worked out. But they’ll all stem from these two. 

I love living in Memphis, but I'm not from the city. I grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I spent many hours at a highly tender age listening to NPR as my parents crisscrossed that city in their car, running errands. I don't amuse myself by musing about the purity of destiny, but I have seriously wondered how different my life would be if my parents preferred classic rock instead of Car Talk.