Memphis Shelby County Schools Supt. Dr. Joris M. Ray makes the case that education is everybody’s business during his State of the District address. (Screen capture)
TSD education columnist Curtis Weathers.

First, I am not one to be overly critical of our school system. I try to reflect on most things from a positive perspective. I have watched all of the last three of Supt. Dr. Joris M. Ray’s State of the Schools presentations. I always come away from these addresses very frustrated. 

We all know that the academic achievement news in our school system is not the greatest right now, but we as a community need to know what we can do to help our children improve their performance. 

During the entire presentation, I kept thinking to myself; I must not understand what these State of the District addresses are all about. This is an opportunity for the superintendent to share the state of academic achievement in our school system. 

Yet, unless I missed a significant portion of Dr. Ray’s presentation, I do not recall seeing a lot of information or data regarding student achievement. Why is that? 

I will come back to that question. 

Let me give you a list of the things I applauded in Dr. Ray’s presentation and a list of things I would love to see in future State of the District presentations. 

First, I applaud hiring all of the new SEAs and the bonus money for teacher assistants, teacher types, and educational assistants. We need to do all we can to attract and keep potential full-time classroom teachers in our pipeline. 

Second, the Strategic Partners for Literacy partnership is an excellent idea. I like this because it directly addresses a specific group of children (3rd graders) and their academic performance in literacy. However, I wish his presentation included more national, state and district data about first through third-grade literacy. Still, I am anxious to hear more about this initiative. 

Lastly, I love the new logo! 

All of the other initiatives are fine, but please tie them to the academic achievement goals set for your administrators, teachers and students. 

Like most people, I think a $5 million investment for water bottle filling stations, expanding the Bolton AgriSTEM program, the expansion of the district’s Pre-K program, exploring the idea of year-round schooling (good luck with that idea), and investing $171 million in facility upgrades, is important.

Somehow, however, you have to connect all of this directly to improvements in academic achievement. And throughout the entirety of the superintendent’s presentation, he barely mentioned how these improvements would impact student achievement and the performance levels of our students on state exams. 

Well, in my opinion, at this point, the state of our school system is NOT strong, and it is not necessarily the fault of our school leaders. We are struggling like every other school system in our nation. The pandemic has weakened us significantly. And I think it is OK to admit that. 

I would give Dr. Ray and his team a B+ for their efforts during this pandemic. I think they have done a fairly good job keeping our students and employees safe and the education process ongoing despite the enormous challenges they have had to navigate over the last two years.

Here is an idea: the superintendent and his team should create a list of strategies (a pamphlet maybe) that outlines what parents and the community can do to help improve the achievement levels of our children. Then, we can all work together to recover from this pandemic and get ourselves back on the right track. 

Hmmm…not a bad idea! 

Student achievement is the primary indicator of the health and vitality of a school system. Supt. Ray, take us through the data and tell us what we can do as parents and a community to improve our children’s academic performance.

Remember, we are stronger together; we are 901!

(Follow TSD education columnist Curtis Weathers on Twitter (@curtisweathers); email: [email protected].)