SCS poised to close two schools, combine and expand others in first steps of new plan

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Jan. 13, 2022 - A new Shelby County Schools district building plan will mean East High School will also house to the Maxine Smith STEAM Academy, a middle school. The plan will be left up to a school board vote in late January.
Jan. 13, 2022 - A new Shelby County Schools district building plan will mean East High School will also house to the Maxine Smith STEAM Academy, a middle school. The plan will be left up to a school board vote in late January.

Shady Grove Elementary in East Memphis and Alton Elementary in South Memphis are poised to close at the end of this school year. Maxine Smith STEAM Academy and Northwest Prep Academy are poised to get new addresses, sharing buildings space with existing district schools in the fall.

Shelby County Schools will bring the recommendations to the board at the end of the month, along with the recommendations for the two school building mergers, plus recommendations for a school expansion and a new school program. The changes are up to a board vote.

Each of the suggestions was first announced in April as part of the district's new "Reimagine 901" plan proposing school building changes and academic initiatives. Delayed by the pandemic, the plan for the district's facilities and academic strategy makes use of federal stimulus dollars. Proposed new schools in the plan will also rely on capital funds from the county.

Details on SCS plan: SCS proposes building 5 schools, closing about 15, adding on to 13. Here are details

What SCS schools are impacted by the plan

Students who go to Shady Grove Elementary will instead be split between White Station Elementary, about 2 miles away, and Dexter K-8, a proposed combination of Dexter Elementary, about 7 miles away, and Dexter Middle School.

Students who go to Alton Elementary will instead go to A. B. Hill Elementary, just under 2 miles away.

In addition to the closures, the district is proposing the following first steps to the board:

  • Relocating Maxine Smith STEAM Academy, a middle school in midtown, to operate about 2 miles away in the same building as East High School, which also has a STEM program.

  • Relocating Northwest Prep Academy, a school on Poplar Ave. near the eastern edge of the Medical District, to operate about 5.5 miles away in the same building as G.W. Carver and Career Academy in South Memphis.

  • Expanding Mt. Pisgah Middle School to a middle and high school by adding a new grade of about 100 students. The school will have a STEM focus in a "Middle College theme," per the district, a reference to an optional school offering dual enrollment courses with Christian Brothers University.

  • Rezoning some Ridgeway High School students to White Station High School, a move the district says will "increase district enrollment and recruitment of non-SCS students."

  • Creating an agri-STEM program for Bolton High School, which will require an application process.

During the April presentation, the district proposed developing or selling the Shady Grove Elementary and Northwest Prep properties, among four others. Alton Elementary would become an early childhood headquarters, the district proposed at the time.

During a committee meeting, John Barker, deputy superintendent over operations, told board members district recommendations for what to do with the buildings wouldn't come until after decisions had been made on closures.

"We didn't want to get the cart before the horse," Barker said.

The district added the item to committee agenda when the meeting started Tuesday afternoon.

Community speaks out against closures, district expected to release impact reports

The district began having community meetings for the school changes in November, and recently completed a second round of the meetings in January. SCS said it informed specific school communities rather than the entire district about the meetings and did so through texts, emails and phone calls, and added the meetings to a list on the district's calendar. The meetings appeared to be in-person, and SCS did not state whether virtual options were available.

Hosting the community sessions follows board policy on school closure. Other items, like community impact reports about what the closures will mean to the community, are also required of the district, per policy.

When community members submitted questions in November, the district aimed to answer those specifically in the follow-up meetings in January.

SCS board: SCS board votes to close Memphis Academy of Health Sciences Middle and High Schools

Several of the public comments at the most recent school board meeting in late November were in favor of keeping Shady Grove open. About 95% of the school's students don't stay in the geographic area for the school, Superintendent Joris Ray said.

Community members described a small, close-knit school community that was supportive of its population of students with disabilities. One fifth grader said the school helped her with her mental health.

"Please give Shady Grove a chance to help Reimagine 901, reimagine SCS and reimagine Memphis," said Hannah Mims, who described herself an an advocate for exceptional children at the school, asked the district to reconsider the closure.

Kelly Saiz, the mother of a third grader, is one of the many families that travels to attend the school, which requires 40 miles of driving a day.

"It isn't just a school to my daughter," Saiz said, then apologizing for crying. "It's a safe place where she can learn, and where she is encouraged to dream."

"A community isn't always just where you live," Saiz added. "...Our community is Shady Grove."

At the meeting, Ray assured community members he was interested in the feedback and assured them the district would do everything it could "to make a thoughtful decision." As a parent himself, he said, he was empathetic to their passion for their schools.

"But as the superintendent, I’m the superintendent for all schools," Ray said. "And reimagining education, it’s about equity and access. I just want to be clear that no decision has been made.”

In the recent committee meeting, board member Kevin Woods pushed the district to consider planning for additional resources for school communities impacted by the recommendations. He encouraged the district to think about ways to ease and assist the transition through marketing as well as considering that savings from the transitions go toward easing the transitions.

The board will review the recommendations during a work session, scheduled for Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. The vote would follow during the business meeting on Jan. 25 at 5:30 p.m.

Laura Testino covers education and children's issues for the Commercial Appeal. Reach her at laura.testino@commercialappeal.com or 901-512-3763. Find her on Twitter: @LDTestino

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Shady Grove and Alton elementary schools are set to close in Memphis

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