At Hamilton K-8 School, the start of school on Monday (Aug. 8) was something to cheer about. (Photo: MSCS Twitter)

by Michelle McKissack —

For our school-aged children and families, these last days of July bring the excitement of returning to school – shopping for school supplies, reuniting with old friends and making new ones. On August 8, Memphis-Shelby County Schools (MSCS) will open its doors to welcome our children back for another exciting year of learning. 

Michelle McKissack (Courtesy photo)

As the school board chair already attending back-to-school events in my district, and as the mom of an MSCS student entering middle school, I’m optimistic about the progress and momentum the new school year will bring. While the District faces challenges with the review of the superintendent, a thorough independent investigation is underway and our deputy superintendents are more than capable to lead and are moving forward on behalf of our children. 

We’ve experienced significant gains even during the pandemic thanks to our leadership, educators and community supporters, and we expect them to continue. Since 2020, the District has been steadfast in creating a formula for success, which brought us incremental growth along the way. Now the expectation is to experience exponential growth, and here’s why: 

Earlier this year, we unveiled “Reimagining 901,” to create a new vision for education in the city. Our vision gave way to multiple investments of time, dollars and innovation through seasonal learning academies and elevated tutoring, and they have proven to be effective. We also rebranded the district for a stronger connection to the community we serve and greater name recognition. 

We received a historic allocation of federal dollars through the American Rescue Act. Those funds will go toward innovation in addressing student learning loss, facility repairs, and a proposal for additional new schools. Each of these objectives are essential to ensure our students are equipped for maximum teaching and learning in the next phase of the pandemic. The work has already begun starting with key repairs to AC units districtwide. 

Additionally, we hired nearly 1,000 education assistants to help fill learning loss gaps for students and elevate the classroom experience. We are innovating new solutions to tackle the problems of the day.

At Belle Forest Middle School, there was an all-out effort to create a picture-perfect day for students as the school year began. (Photo: MSCS Twitter)

Finally, we proudly shared our progress in Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) scores released earlier in July. Our efforts and students’ perseverance led to the strongest high school English scores in five years. Elementary reading and Math saw nearly double-digit gains. Considering a McKinsey analysis that shows students nationwide are on average five months behind in Math and four months behind in reading by the end of the school year as a result of COVID-19, seeing our scores land in and move toward pre-pandemic territory is encouraging. 

Not only are scores up, but TCAP participation rates increased from 94 percent to 97 percent. While we know there’s more work to do, we’re pleased with the progress thus far, and our students should be celebrated for that. For that reason, the 2022-2023 school year is an opportunity to capitalize on the momentum we’ve created together. 

We walk into the new school year with strong district leadership who has been committed and invested in this work for years. Our educators are now joined by retired veteran teachers, who have chosen to reenter the classroom to boost student achievement. 

Just as we do every school year, the board takes our role as decision-makers on behalf of our children and district seriously and will continue to collaborate with district leadership to move the needle in the right direction.  

Thanks to a wonderful partnership with top area healthcare systems, we’re hosting free immunization events to ensure our students have the safeguards needed to return to the classroom healthy, and ready to learn. We’re also realigning a host of principals in the District to transition our reimagination into action inside our school buildings. 

This is what excitement about the new school year looks like! I am eager to see what progress my child can make, what experiences will unfold this year and how her future will be impacted in the most positive way, and I desire that for every student in Memphis-Shelby County Schools. 

Parents, guardians, and community members who consider MSCS children as your own, we know there is room to grow, but we have evidence that an even brighter future is ahead. We are fully prepared with lessons learned, strong resources and a community that loves and supports our students. We’re just getting started, so please join us on the journey. 

Together We Must Believe. Together We Will Achieve. Together We Are REIMAGINING 901.

(Michelle McKissack chairs the Memphis-Shelby County Schools Board of Education.)