Friday, September 30, 2011

The Benefits of a Big School System

Posted By on Fri, Sep 30, 2011 at 10:38 AM

You work with what you have, and what the transition team and the citizens of Shelby County are going to have in 2013 is a big consolidated public school system — probably one of the ten biggest in the country for the first year or two.

The transition team has held its first of many meetings. There are so many big and small decisions to be made in the next two years by the transition team and the new school board, but bigness is a given. So what are the benefits? Here are a few that come to mind.

Marching bands. As Flyer editor Bruce VanWyngarden wrote this week, there is a lot of pride, excitement, talent and diversity in a high school band. Charter schools, which are proliferating, can't offer this.

Sports teams, gyms, and playing fields. One more reason why it is so important to try to persuade the suburbs that it is in their best interest to stay with the county system and not form their own districts. John Aitken and David Pickler are going to be key spokesmen.

Superior experienced teachers. The best Memphis and Shelby County schools are holding their own with private schools if the number of National Merit Scholars and the dollar amount of scholarship offers is any indication. In five years, the new Shelby County system could be competing with more than 50 charter schools, DeSoto County schools, private schools, and new suburban school systems. Good teachers, already a hot commodity, are only going to get hotter. The future Shelby County system must aggressively recruit and retain talent, and that will mean better pay, benefits, and fighting lies with facts and fire with fire when it comes to that.

Special programs. MCS spends nearly $11,000 per pupil because it serves so many students with special needs. And MCS, under Kriner Cash, has attracted hundreds of millions of dollars worth of foundation and philanthropic support. Can you "buy" college-bound students with programs such as the International Baccalaureate Program? We'll find out.

Structure. Starting a school, much less a school system, is not easy, as Memphians learned in the busing years in the 1970s and as they are learning today with charter schools. Money, buildings, maintenance, transportation, and leadership can all go haywire. Why take a chance on your child's education? Better to go with the established professional. At least that's the argument.

Tax money. By no means should the new county system let it leak away to breakaway systems. For the middle class families, if you're paying for Shelby County public schools anyway, you might as well use them. Why double-tax yourself?

Distinguished alumni. Thousands of them. If it worked for them, it can work for you.

Community spirit. New and different. Be a part of history. Move forward together. Pride in place. Idealism won't convince everyone by any means — not even everyone on the transition team — but this has to be the pitch. Don't underestimate the talent on the transition team or the willingness of people to give the big new system a shot for a variety of reasons.

Above all, compete, compete, compete. Everyone else is.

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