Campers Get Slots in Optional Schools

Posted by John Branston on Fri, Jan 25, 2013 at 10:03 AM

Parents who camped out at the school board last week could breathe easier Friday as they turned in their paperwork for cherished spots in the most desirable optional schools.

Those seeking spots in top schools fall into three categories: the locks, the lucky, and the late.

The locks got low numbers and assured spots because they camped out multiple nights, some of them sleeping in tents or bringing propane heaters to stay warm.

The lucky either wound up near the back of the line or will take their chances in a lottery that determines 20 percent of the slots. Jeanie Harrison, who was at the school board auditorium Friday morning, hopes to get her child who is now at Richland Elementary into White Station Middle School. Her husband got in line last Sunday, but the early birds got there three days before. Monday night the Harrisons opted for a propane heater and lawn chairs. Her number is 96. There are 100 slots at the school, and there were 68 parents seeking those slots in front of them. Because siblings get priority, the Harrisons, who have no children currently at the school, are on the bubble.

"I don't think we will know for four to six weeks," she said. "We will probably be in the lottery."

Candite Harbin got number 385 and also hopes to get her child into White Station Middle School. She did not camp out and instead came to the school board on Tuesday. She too is likely to wind up in the lottery.

The optional school game has a new wrinkle this year because of the merger of the city and county school systems and all the attention on public education. Bianca Williams was at the board Friday hoping to get her daughter, who now attends Harding Academy, into White Station Middle School. She was told that she will not know the outcome for another six to eight weeks.

An indication that the process is even-handed — one of the mothers at the board auditorium Friday morning who camped out last week was Maura Black Sullivan, deputy chief administrative officer for the city of Memphis. Also in line was attorney Lori Patterson, who is representing the Shelby County Commission in the schools cases.

Linda Sklar, head of the optional schools program, said final numbers on applicants would be available Sunday. I will update this post when I have more information.

Comments (74)

Showing 1-25 of 74

What a sad, stupid spectacle. Education, run Black Friday style. Come early to get the best deals. As long as we're talking about flat screens and laptops, that's fine. Sit out there like a schmuck in the freezing cold so you can tell all your friends how much money you saved.

But we're talking about kids and their education. We're talking about the future of this city and this country, and we're leaving that up to who is willing to camp out and who is lucky enough to get a good draw in the lottery. Those kids whose parents can't camp out, or who don't get a lucky draw, are left to fight over the crumbs.

A decent education shouldn't be optional, but rather than fix the system for everyone, they've built a separate system within the system and designed it to benefit a lucky few. It's a system built to fail, which is why it has failed.

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Posted by Jeff on 01/25/2013 at 10:58 AM


You are a whiner who obviously don't know anything about education in Tennessee, the state constitution etc.

The state constitution only guarantees the opportunity for an equal, free, quality basic education. Focus on the words, opportunity, free and quality basic. Now, other than that, nothing more is guaranteed. So, take your complaints to the state, not the unified school district.

Optional and IB schools are considered beyond a quality basic education. Memphis has done the best that it could do with the resources avaiable. The old SCS didn't do any better, as a matter of fact they did worse. Sure, every school in the suburbs had selective AP classes available at every school, but there is a large difference having a few select AP course at each school in sted of having a complete honors program, top to bottom. IB programs are even more expensive. There is no school in the former SCS that offers a better program than White Station, John P. Freeman Middle, Ridgeway Middle IB and Ridgeway High IB. The only two comparable schools are Germantown IB and Bolton, I think it is IB also. Hell, every Memphis Highschool have AP classes.

If you and others want more optional and/or IB programs, then be willing to pony up the extra cash. Not just WSH, but every optional program at all of the Memphis Schools that offer them are better than what the suburbs offer.

So stop complaining and ask Pickler and Aitkin why didn't the county schools offer the same options?

The problem, as I see it, is that you suburbanites didn't want to spend the extra money. Hell, you didn't even want to spend the extra money to fund completely or partially sports, band, etc. You claim that you wanted your money to be concentrated on academics. That is bull; you didn't want to pay the extra cash. Well, completely funding or partially funding these programs in Memphis has more than paid for itself with the many scholarships given to students in football, basketball, band, cheerleading, etc. Without that funding, a lot of students, otherwise would have not had achance to go to college.

Don't try to give me the suburban line, but you have so many failing schools. The schools in Memphis are not failing, the students and parents that won't apply themselves individually are failing. You know the old saying, you can take a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. It is the same with education. You can have the best of facilities, instructors, etc, but, if the child won't and the parents won't push them, they will not excel. That is not the schools fault, it is the fault of the parents. Socio-economics has a lot to do with it, however, it should not stop the student from at least getting a quality basic education.

Jeff, if you would look at the last TDOE Report Card for the suburban schools and break down the scores for the wihites vs the African Americans, you will see a large disparity in scores. Are you saying it is the schools fault or the fault of the individual student and his or her family? Answer that one?

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 01/25/2013 at 4:17 PM

Jeff: It's not sad or stupid. It's an inspiring spectacle of parents giving up some time to get their kids into public schools of choice. They did not opt out of the city or public education. Nobody has come up with a better method for "shmucks" to get into these schools.

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Posted by John Branston on 01/25/2013 at 4:18 PM

John show me one magnet school in the country that forces the parents to camp out to get their kids into a good school. This is asinine.

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Posted by homersimpson on 01/25/2013 at 4:32 PM

I am one of the schmucks that camped out, Jeff. I'd not considered telling my friends how much money we're going to save, but that's a swell idea. Thanks for your insight! (we schmucks need all the help we can get)

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Posted by bigjim on 01/25/2013 at 4:42 PM

homer: can't do that without some research that you can probably do as well as I can. But I would be very surprised if there are no other cities with a line-up system for optional schools, or whatever they call them. You probably saw the documentary about the charter school and the lottery in NYC. I favor the line, and, yes, did my time freezing my ass off years ago. I make no apologies for it. Applicants to Rhodes and Vandy do a lot more. Nashville has all-optional schools. Memphis did not go that route. It's an endlessly fascinating subject, agreed.

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Posted by John Branston on 01/25/2013 at 6:37 PM


Maybe you misspoke. I have looked and looked online and I don't see any magnet schools in the former SCS.

Actually, the only magnet school I see listed for all of Shelby County is, John P. Freeman.

Maybe I missed something. I am pretty sure you can direct me to an official magnet school in the old SCS.

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 01/25/2013 at 11:10 PM

Country OTP not county

John: I've got five students at Vandy, several at Rhodes, three that work for NASA two nuclear engineers, and many more. None of them ever spent the night outside just to get into college. You are right, I've seen the lottery documentary. I would ask NYC education officials the same thing. "Why can't you have enough good schools that parents/children are put through such a thing?" You do realize that parents in the county just fill out an application and submit it to the administration.

Magnet is all optional. Like JP Freeman and what ever they are going to call Humes Middle future art school next year.

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Posted by homersimpson on 01/26/2013 at 3:41 PM


You are still talking about piecemeal AP courses, while I and, I think John is saying, an entire regimen of honors and/or IB. No student's parents have to wait in line for AP classes in Memphis. The only restriction is that there must be enough students for the AP classes to make it economical feasible.

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 01/26/2013 at 5:07 PM

A mind with no reading skills is a terrible thing to waste.

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Posted by clarion on 01/26/2013 at 6:41 PM

Um check again. Students in MCS go through a very rigorous process to get into AP and IB. Not just anyone can take those classes. Again, how many non-optional kids are in your kid's AP class? Your kid is in a pre-IB program as a freshman. He still has to be accepted to get into the IB program. SCS does the same thing.

John is talking about standing in line for the optional program. My parents did it and I bet I know a whole lot of the parents that did it this year. They went to the big open house. There are no other districts in the nation (I used that just for you since you had a problem with the "r") that require parents to camp out to get their kids into good schools. Magnet schools use application process.

Before Bartlett got a new principal that dropped STEM, they copied a process from a large nationally ranked magnet school from the North. The applicants filled out applications and submitted scores and written works. Then a selected few were chosen for interviews. I will fully admit that Bartlett let these kids down and dropped the program. All of the people who fought to bring the program to fruition have left SCS because of the merger. Those left behind have failed to push Bartlett's academic progress.

You are telling me that in 27 years since I started with MCS that they could not come up with a better way to get kids into optional. Better yet, in 27 years they couldn't find a way to put more rigorous academic classes throughout the MCS system!?

There are 36 high schools (I took out the adults, CTE, special ed and charter). Remember, when the two systems combine, the number of advanced high school courses that make in MCS will double with the addition of eight county high schools. That is ridiculous. Every high school should have at least the core: English, math, science and history. And I am not promoting an AP physics course at every school. I know better than that.

ESAU and I discussed this at the beginning of the merger. We have much speculation on why there are no magnet schools in MCS. There are more than enough potential students within the system to justify it. I think Cash was working towards this, but I don't know it for a fact. It is the only explanation for cutting optional budgets the way he did. Well that an the inequality of funding.

Economically feasible? Why can SCS manage two IB programs in 8 schools while MCS can only manage 1 in 36? Keeping open a high school with only 250 kids is why!

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Posted by homersimpson on 01/26/2013 at 6:54 PM

Non optional kids in AP? That's funny

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Posted by homersimpson on 01/26/2013 at 7:05 PM

The non-sense just never stops, does it Homer.

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Posted by Honey Nuts on 01/26/2013 at 7:37 PM

I see that my harsh tone cause a misread of my intent. For that, I apologize. I don't blame those parents who sit in line, camp out, or enter the lottery. If I still lived there, I'd be doing the same thing. They are doing whatever it takes to get their kids into good schools, and I applaud them and you, if that's what you do.

But for the last four years, I've lived in a place where it doesn't matter where you live, your kids go to decent schools. I don't have to camp out to get my kids into an optional school because my neighborhood school sucks. In fact, my school system doesn't have optional schools, or magnet schools, or whatever you want to call them. When I moved here, I was able to purchase the house I could afford without having to worry about where my kids would go to school.

Stop and think about that for a minute. My housing choice wasn't based on where my kids would go to school. At all. School district didn't even figure into my considerations. Can any parent (who wasn't already planning to put their kids in private/optional school) in Memphis say the same thing? Can you even imagine not having that hanging over your head like the sword of Damocles?

I've lived here now for four years, without worrying whether they will redraw the school district and send my kids to a different school, because it doesn't matter. For four years, my only concern has been getting home before the bus drops off. For four years, I haven't had to wonder what I'll do when my kids finish 5th grade, or 8th grade, where I'll send them, whether I'll be able to get them into the two or three decent schools that are close enough to my house/work so I can drop them off or pick them up and still keep my job. I haven't had to buy a house I couldn't afford, just to get them into a decent school district.

If you can't see that where I live is the way it should be, is supposed to be, I'm sorry. Before I moved here, I didn't know that a school system could be run on the principle of simple logic and common sense, that it could be run for the primary benefit of the children enrolled in it, rather than the people who administer it and profit by it. It has bee, to say the least, a revelation.

The sad, sorry spectacle is the school system that is run like Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, not the parents forced negotiate a preposterous obstacle course to enroll their children in a place that will offer them better than a 5th grade edjication upon graduation.

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Posted by Jeff on 01/26/2013 at 10:03 PM

Looks like you and yours are in a better place. You're not alone, families are leaving Memphis every day, and often their children's education is a deciding factor in their move.
I suspect recent developments down there are only going to accelerate those migrations.

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Posted by Drift Boat on 01/27/2013 at 7:23 AM


Hume Fogg magnet from Nashville. #1 HS in TN and #49 in nation. About 900 kids (about twice as many as WSHS optional). On line application process. On line lottery. On line notification process. On line acceptance process.

FYI: WSHS graduates twice as many National Merit finalists as Hume Fogg.

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Posted by homersimpson on 01/27/2013 at 11:35 AM

If Memphis used the on line approach to optional school admissions, how long do you think it would be before someone would claim some sort of bias, probably racial, in that approach?
Speaking of Nashville, the mayor and school superintendent are pushing a reorganization plan there that would decentralize the administration of their schools. They are proposing to move significant decision making authority and resources from the central office to the school principals. They feel that the centralized approach has become too bureaucratic. Sound familiar?

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Posted by Drift Boat on 01/27/2013 at 12:11 PM

You suburbanites are still not getting it. You are basing all of your assumptions on the schools. The schools are only buildings. It is the students that are failing.

Jeff, you wrongly say that why should you want your child to graduate from a school with only a fifth grading reading average. That is misleading. If your child graduated with only a fkfth grade reading average, that is your fault, not the particular school. It is the child and their parents that didn't avail themselves of the opportunity to learn. My children all learned in the MCS, only one, the last one took AP classes or attended optional schools. In every MCS school that they attended, they learned. If wht you are trying to say is correct, why is Mississippi toward the bootom of education while Arkansas is rated even higher that the Tennessee State System? I have never based my decision on shools when I have moved. As long as the school have qualified teachers, my children have learned and excelled. That is a personal trait, not a schools trait.

I perused the 2012 TDOE Report Card for the SCS. I found that the African American Students scored much less than their white counterparts. They went to the same schools, the same classrooms, the same administration and teachers. Why the disparity and why so wide? Not once have I accused the SCS schools of failing, nor have I accused them of bias in teaching. You see, I realize that the schools give the opportunity, but it is the students and parents that make their children learn.

People in the suburbs say, why should people have to stand in line? It is simple; they stand in line because it is the only fair way. Someone said that certain schools in Tennessee have online applications. They go to the administration and the administration culls the list according to scores, transcripts, etc. That is grossly unfair in a free public school system. The system should set the minimum qualification for admittance to optional and/or IB Schools. They should not assign seats based on starting with the highest scores. That is a violation of the equal protection clause of the constitution and even the state constitution. In a free, public school system equal to all, no student should have to wait for admittance to these schools based on anything other than the minimum qualifications. That is why the MCS kept the first come, first served.
This is not college, where the seats are competitive, but equal opportunity, free quality, basic education for K-12.

Finally, since all classes rated above basic are not guaranteed by the state, no school distrct in Tennesse even have to have them. If the county had wanted optional schools and more IB schools, all they had to do was fund them. Yes, these programs cost extra money. You don't have them because you don't want to pay the extra cost. You want to say that you have low proerty taxes, however you really don't. You are also selfish. You don't want to fund sports, band, cheerleadingand other sports for the good of the entire district. You want to say, my child doesn't participate in any of those activities, why shoud I have to pay for them. That is selfish and can be, in a sense veiwed as racist, for the poor African American and other poor students cannot afford to participate. Well, you are cheating your own children in the end. You have missed out on a lot of suburban white kids going further in sports, etc. This is because they don't play against the best, they don't develope the skills neccessary to compete on a higher level. You only get better, regardless of innate talent, when you compete against the best. That is why, a lot of time, you so called stars don't even get a look from major colleges. Say what you wii, sprorts scholarships and other activities save a family a lot of money in college costs.

So, to all of you selfish, naysayers, it is not the schools, it boils down to the will of the individual students and their parents.

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 01/27/2013 at 2:23 PM

old timer

Where in the hell do you get this shit? The suburbs don' t have sports?????? That's really funny. My son went to Houston High and Middle School. Guess what? He played football and was on the wrestling team AND played in the band. Granted he didn't turn pro like your kids probably did. The PTA meetings were always standing room only. The parents at those schools raised money for everything that needed money. I' m not sure but I don't think they had basketball. Some of Houston High baseball players have gone pro out of high school. And there again it's racist with you. So as always you are just full of shit. Don't you get tired of the same old shit. And if the SCHOOLS are not failing and it's the parents fault, why is the state taking over so many of them?

Had any luck with your gun, ammo, and clips in three different locations? I noticed you ran off AGAIN.

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Posted by clarion on 01/27/2013 at 3:36 PM

The state is taking over schools in Memphis to get back at Memphis for fighting the msds.

It is also a power grab to allow private peole to get money to dilute the influence of the city of Memphis.

No worry, this is the same schemem that Michelle Rhee and her ex husband took to the D. C. Schools. It didn't work there, got them ran out of twon, and it won't sork here.

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 01/27/2013 at 5:51 PM


Who do you think reviewed your kid's application to Ridgeway? That would be those folks in administration on Avery St. Good God you've lost it. Yes, there are minimum qualifications for magnet schools and optional schools and many parents apply knowing their kids doesn't meet such standards. That's why they review applications! The rest is lottery in Nashville. OMG this is just freaking common sense. My bad - OTP and common sense NEVER belong in the same sentence.

Let me explain this to you simply. Every single high school and every single middle school in SCS has advanced classes. EVERY SINGLE ONE. This is why the number of advanced classes that meet will double as of July 2, 2013. SCS offers more advanced classes with 8 high schools than MCS offers in 36!

And let me just point out a glaring contradiction here OTP. On the last thread you claimed that no extra resources are required for your kid to take AP rather than a standard class. Yet on here you are claiming that SCS cannot afford optional schools because they are more expensive. You can't have it both ways. So which is it?

And your nonsense about extra curricular activities is just over the top. SCS has plenty of programs that translate to plenty of championships and awards. In fact it was MCS that cancelled all middle school activities last year due to funding - not SCS.

Drift, you are absolutely correct. MCS tried using on line registration this year and it was an utter failure, mostly because of the lack of use by the parents. You don't know how many parents I coached through the basic parts of registration AFTER school started. What a lovely way to spend a planning period. I did hear a little about the Nashville plans from a fellow teacher. They are hopeful but still doubtful that it will happen. Who would have ever thought that SCS could be the poster child for how a school system should be run! That will quickly fade.

Clarion: Top rated 2012 baseball player in the area currently holds the player of the year for the state helped bring home the state AAA championship: Brady Bramlett out of Arlington! Can't wait to see how he does at Ole Miss. His daddy and I threw a few balls as kids.

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Posted by homersimpson on 01/27/2013 at 6:16 PM

This was four days ago on the abc affiliate in Nashville.…

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Posted by Drift Boat on 01/27/2013 at 6:30 PM

Thanks Drift.

I hope they do get fiscal autonomy. That is what is needed around here. I wonder if they need state approval for the hiring part. I don't understand those laws, but I know that whatever the TCP has proposed, requires changes in state laws or waivers.

SCS has communication among the feeders. I don't know how much of that happens in MCS!

Jones would be having a fit over the loss of jobs!

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Posted by homersimpson on 01/27/2013 at 9:18 PM


My kid was accepted at Ridgeway Middle, first optional school he attended, because he met the minumum qualifications and space was available at that time. He didn't have to be judged on a competitive basis with other students, for there were plenty who applied that had better grades than he, but came after he was accepted. There are slots always open in otional programs, school within a school, but the majority of the parents want a particular school or nothing. That is their pride, not the fault of the school district.

As far as SCS having AP classes in all of their schools, while true is a misnomer. A friend of mine's daughter was passed over for AP classes because, even though she met the minimum qualifications, there were other applicants that had better grades. Yes, a school can do that, for AP classes is above the state mandated opportunity for a equal, quality, free basic education.

My other kids graduated from MCS and never attended optional school or took AP classes. They all went to major colleges, including CBC and Northwestern University. It is not, as much as what is in the school, but the desire and willingness of what is in the students and their parent/s.

I previously gave this link to AP and others. I believe that you should read it too:…, (pdf) Their View-My View.

It will shed some light on why african american students that attend suburban schools are behind their white peers.

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 01/27/2013 at 9:48 PM

I have news for you. Someone reviewed your kid's application. I even know them by name. EVERY application for optional is reviewed to make sure the kid meets minimum qualifications. Every optional package has a score sheet attached. The hard ones are the kids coming from private with no scores in the system. There are also waiting lists for at least five schools. And yes, every other optional school has spots available. Most schools have no applications at all. There are three schools usually listed as second choices, but less than 10% of the applicant ever take this option. Most people choose private or stay in the county when they don't get WS school as first choice. I can give you references and a list of parents that will make this choice this year!

Again, AP is a rigorous process. Meeting minimum does not guarantee acceptance. I have the ability to reject kids, especially when you see certain red flags in recommendations. There are certain words and phrases that teachers understand as indicators of a child's immaturity or lack of motivation to handle the extra work required in AP. Again, I don't teach IB and never have, but I know several that do and their process is just as strenuous. You son will have a full review before he begins his junior year. My students have to have two recommendations and I review every students package and pull the scores myself. I have always had this prerogative, didn't not matter what system I was in. My predictors are more from math than previous science courses.

I promise I know way more about the achievement gap than you will ever be able to google. This is the focus of most area high schools right now. Every single school in both the city and county face the same exact problem. This is a cultural problem with roots in the home.

In a recent faculty meeting, a member of the board came to give a pep talk on the closing gap. This was an AA male. He ended by telling us that AA boys do not strive for academic achievement because they do not receive the same public recognition as an AA male in athletics. One of my colleagues (an AA female) got up and tore him a new one for promoting excuses. I was extremely proud of her and she received a standing ovation from those of us in attendance. And afterwards, I offered up several of my students that met his demographics yet managed to break his stereotype.

This is the same crap that is going on at Cornerstone - excuses. Lewis claims that the teachers don't understand the culture. The reality is the teachers do understand the culture, but they are not willing to buy into it. The problem is that the culture has to change. The teachers are trying to do that with huge resistance from the parents and people who like to cause trouble like Willie and Merriweather.

FYI - the optional program has not been approved by the board. This whole process could be moot. I doubt they change it for the next year with the real possibility that the munis are going to happen, but you should expect SOME changes on the horizon.

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Posted by homersimpson on 01/27/2013 at 10:22 PM
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