Much has been made of the sizes of the various boards and commissions tasked with planning and implementing the merger of school systems in Shelby County. There's the 23-person School Board and the 21-person Transition Planning Commission; there are the subcommittees and task forces, each with its own membership.
And then there is our more than 30-person Educational Services Committee of the TPC, made up of educational experts from the district and nearly half of the TPC. Charged with developing an educational mission for the merged district, this group has been meticulously examining the enormous variety of programs school districts offer, from pre-kindergarten to advance placement.
Recently, we began the process of building from that knowledge to develop a vision for the district and a framework for more specific recommendations to be included in the TPC's larger plan. Our group developed a set of priorities that was endorsed last week by the full TPC — unanimously and ahead of schedule.
At the center of this vision is the statement "for every student," reflecting a commitment to building a district responsive to the range of needs facing children in Shelby County. The goal for every student is an education that will prepare them for success in college and career after graduation.
To achieve that, the process must begin early. A theme from much of the committee's research is the importance of early childhood to long-term educational outcomes, so the committee begins its mission with the goal that every child enter kindergarten ready for school.
Once in school, there are a number of elements that simply must be present in order for a student — and our community — to succeed. Like spokes on a wheel, these elements help students progress from the day they enter kindergarten or first grade toward that end goal of post-graduation success years later.
Effective teachers, principals, and instructional leaders must work to create a culture and climate of high expectations for all students. The content of the students' curriculum should be rigorous and should be implemented thoroughly to match high standards. Although standards must be uniformly high, they need not be identical.
Families should have high-quality, accessible educational choices to foster a system where every student's potential can be reached. Whether that means an education reflecting the growing emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math, one geared toward attaining college credit while in high school, or one focused on fine arts or foreign language, every student should have an opportunity to access school and programmatic options available within the district.
Where students are having difficulty meeting these high standards, the student must have access to support and interventions tailored to each student's needs — academic, behavioral, or otherwise. And all of this must be done in partnership with the support of parents and guardians who are informed about and engaged in students' education.
Of course, none of these seven spokes (effective teachers, effective instructional leaders, culture and climate of high expectations, tailored interventions and support, engaged parents, quality and accessible educational choices, rigorous implementation of high standards) can be constructed by a school district alone. Rather, community service providers and the broader community — all of us — should be ready to partner with the district and student to support this work.
Fortunately, much is already being done in both districts consistent with these goals. The committee's vision will guide the process of formulating a merger plan that builds upon those successes and generates even more. Now that the broad vision has the unanimous endorsement of the TPC, the Educational Services Committee will begin developing more specific recommendations to give substance to these aspirations. In addition, since the educational vision is central to the entire work of any school system, these priorities will serve as a pillar to the larger TPC plan and will guide the work of other committees as well.
Neither the vision nor the more specific recommendations will eliminate the challenges inherent in education. The work of generating and maintaining these spokes is ongoing and will require the commitment of a group even larger than any of those currently working on the merger — our entire community.
It is never too early to begin that community-wide engagement, and the TPC looks forward to partnering with and learning from the community as our work continues. As we share this educational vision in the coming weeks, the TPC invites your feedback. More specific information on opportunities to connect can be found on the TPC's website, ourschoolourvoice.org.
TPC members Daniel Kiel, a University of Memphis law professor, and Fred Johnson, former Shelby County Schools teacher and interim SCS superintendent, are co-chairs of the Educational Services Committee.