by Curtis Weathers —
Shelby County Schools Supt. Dr. Joris Ray, in his second State of the District address last Friday, enthusiastically declared that “THE STATE OF OUR SCHOOL DISTRICT IS STRONG!”
I missed last year’s presentation, so I was not quite sure what to expect from this one. As I watched and listened to the presentations, I was excited about some of the things I heard; curious and disappointed about others.
Still, in the end, I was hopeful about what the future has in store for our children in Memphis going forward.
Before I delve into some of my observations and comments, I want to congratulate our school board, the superintendent and his team for the exceptional leadership they have provided over the past year, especially in the wake of the deadliest pandemic in the history of this nation.
It has indeed been a challenging year for the entire community. Their hard work and commitment to keep our children safe and provide them with the best educational experience possible is appreciated.
So, let’s get started!
I was excited about the logo and name change proposal.
The name Memphis Shelby County Schools is an excellent choice. I can’t tell you how frustrated I get when I’m doing an internet search and have to navigate through material from other school districts across the country with the same Shelby County Schools name.
Plans to increase teacher salaries are a no-brainer and long overdue. I hope the district will follow through with this commitment. It is well deserved.
The district’s decision to provide dual language and bilingual programs for students at ALL grade levels is commendable. This would make our district very unique and an exemplar for other school systems.
At the elementary level, the movement towards smaller class sizes is a welcomed change, even though it’s only for K-2 classrooms.
Creating smaller class sizes for K-2 students and expanding pre-K for all 4-year-olds will have a tremendous impact on children’s readiness to start school and perform at grade-level expectations.
For middle schools, the transition academies and emphasis on CCTE certifications will allow students to focus on career development at a much earlier age.
This is a smart decision and will benefit students in ways they cannot begin to imagine.
There wasn’t much in the high school package that excites me. Later school start times and creating more career academies do not require a lot of imagination.
I honestly think we need to have an educational summit on reimagining the high school experience in our district.
Dr. Ray’s presentation was almost entirely void of performance data.
Academic achievement data are always the most important metrics by which you measure the health of a public-school organization.
There was little to no discussion about how we might re-imagine the world of technology and virtual learning.
How we might use technology in the future in creative and innovative ways to communicate with parents, provide instructional support to students outside of the classroom and use media and our new and improved virtual infrastructure to provide a different kind of instructional experience.
How could you not talk about technology and the new world of virtual learning after what our teachers and children have been through?
But what disappointed me the most was the lack of discussion around what we as a district have learned from our experiences battling the coronavirus pandemic.
I kept waiting for that “Lessons Learned from the Pandemic” slide to appear in the superintendent’s presentation. It never came.
I was most curious about the lack of discussion around the subject of learning loss and how we might “reimagine” ways to make up for lost ground academically during the pandemic.
Oh, and not to be petty, but I also was curious as to why this event is held in April and not later in the school year or close to the start of a new academic year.
It seems to me you would want the backdrop of a new school year and the benefit of the previous year’s performance data when preparing a presentation such as this.
There was nothing about the remaining elements of the district’s plan that requires a lot of “reimagination,” in my opinion.
But that does not mean those elements are not important, because they are.
As I alluded to earlier, I’m appreciative of the leadership we have in place to help guide this community and school system out of the pandemic and into more educational prosperity in the future.
We have been through a lot as a school system, as has every school district in America. But Ray and his team kept their promise. They made sure our children were safe while at the same time doing the best they could to provide them with a high-quality educational experience given the circumstances.
This pandemic has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that we (901) are indeed “stronger together” both as a community and a school system.
Let’s keep pushing forward together. We have miles to go before we reach our destination.
So, stay safe everyone, and get vaccinated!
(Follow TSD education columnist Curtis Weathers on Twitter (@curtisweathers); email: [email protected].)