The schedule for last week's meeting about the city schools' new master plan included three speeches and a question and answer session. When it came time for the Q&A, however, some of the parents in attendance were not impressed.
"I thought this was supposed to be a question and answer session," one mother said. "How come there are no answers?"
About 150 concerned parents, students, and teachers attended the town hall meeting at White Station High School to air their concerns over the Memphis City Schools' proposed 5 Year Master Plan. The plan, which includes proposals to close several schools, build others, and rezone almost every existing facility, would dramatically alter the district. Some citizens held signs protesting their school closings. Others came armed with pointed questions. But district representatives chose not to respond to comments directly, saying that they wanted to hear as many different concerns as possible and that answers would be forthcoming.
"I was very impressed with how much the parents already knew coming in to the meeting," said Tom Marshall, the city councilman and architect who heads up the firm that assembled the plan. "Nevertheless, I think there are definite adjustments that need to be made, not only to the educational experience but to the culture, and this adjustment is going to take some time to set in."
According to Marshall, the district has hard data to answer most of the parents' questions.
"It was unfortunate that we didn't have time to both hear and answer the questions, because we have answers to the questions, and it made it look like we didn't," said Marshall.
Victoria Noblett, a parent and teacher from Treadwell High School, contested the master plan's logic. Under the plan, Treadwell becomes a middle school.
"I thought the purpose of this plan was to help schools become the focus of the community," she said. "Well, right now, this school is the nucleus of this community, so why are you taking it away?"
Marshall, responding to the Flyer, said this question is a perfect example in which the district's motivation is not immediately obvious. "I especially feel for the children who have already attended that school and have a vested interest," he said. "But we believe that the long-term benefit will outweigh that. In Treadwell's case, studies show you are twice as likely to drop out of high school if you attend a 7-12 rather than a 9-12.
"Even if the children have to suffer through a one-time adjustment, the long-term benefits are overwhelming."