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First Report

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In time-honored tradition, it is time for the first six-weeks' grade report on the newest student to hit the Memphis educational scene. That would be Kriner Cash, a transfer from Miami, Florida, and, it would appear, a quick study.

First, how did the new superintendent do in his entry-level course, Introduction to Memphis 101? He seems to have learned fast, accommodating himself not only to the political structure in these parts but, in one of his earliest innovations — a proposal to break up the school district into four administrative areas — borrowing a useful holdover idea from the regime of the city's current mayor, onetime superintendent Willie Herenton. It's probably a good idea in itself and indicative of a sense of diplomacy which will serve Cash well in years to come. Herenton, a disappointed suitor for the job who once lumped Cash into a class of applicants he called "third-rate," was able to do some sincere bragging about the new man. At the very least, that will stave off what many see as an inevitable clash until such time as the superintendent has his feet firmly on the new earth he inhabits.

On the other hand, Cash's quick hire of a former mayoral intimate, David "Smokey" Gaines, as MCS athletic director raised eyebrows — especially since the holder of the job, the well-respected Wayne Weedon, had to be shoved aside to accommodate Gaines. That, plus Cash's importation from Miami of new MCS security chief Gerald Darling, who had been cited for a sex-scandal cover-up by a Florida grand jury, engendered fears that Cash might be seeing overly eye-to-eye with Herenton, who is more or less constantly being charged with cronyism.

There's a plus side to that if it indicates Cash understands the nature of his new turf. In recent remarks to the Memphis Rotary Club, the new superintendent assailed what he saw here as "a culture of failure" and promised to remedy it by, among other things, finding new ways to institutionalize the role of fathers and father figures in the school system. Also promising was Cash's pledge to aggressively pursue the involvement of qualified adults as tutors.

Cash seems to understand that MCS' over-large corps of over-age students — those who have repeatedly failed annual promotion — is at the core of performance by the whole student population. He proposes to target these students for a mixture of stern discipline, countertruancy measures, and hands-on incentives. Meanwhile, he will encourage mainline students to achieve results by providing exhibitions and other opportunities for superior work on their part to be displayed to the public.

All students will have to toe the line on dress codes and cell-phone use. While we have reservations about the latter policy, we recognize that some students are trafficking in something other than educational ideas, and banning the phones may be a prerequisite to getting that problem under control. And we were struck by his proposal to outfit schools with wardrobe closets so that students who come to school with ill-fitting garments will be forced to shed them and climb into something else that, Cash said, "is the right size."

Is Cash himself the right size? The answer to that will determine his final grade. Meanwhile, we'll give him an Incomplete. And we're optimistic about his progress.

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