Hopson proposes big changes to three historic Memphis high schools

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Since 1948, East High School has served students in Memphis.

Days after the state proposed taking control of Memphis Hillcrest High School for charter conversion, Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has proposed merging the academically struggling school with Whitehaven High School.

In a presentation Tuesday evening to the Shelby County Board of Education, Hopson also proposed turning East High School into a Science Technology Engineering and Math magnet school.

Both plans would dramatically change the configuration and course offerings of the storied Memphis high schools in an attempt to boost test scores and reverse declining enrollments. They also could prove contentious among the schools’ strong alumni groups.

Hopson said he was surprised by a proposal unveiled last week by the state Achievement School District to take control of Hillcrest and turn it into a charter school — a plan he said he will attempt to block. He said he and his staff have been studying and planning for months a potential merger of Hillcrest and Whitehaven.

He wants freshmen at Whitehaven and Hillcrest to attend an academy at Hillcrest, with the rest of the school operating as a career and technical center. Students in grades 10-12 would attend Whitehaven.

“This is an opportunity to strengthen Whitehaven and to build upon such an outstanding record of high achievement,” said Hopson, a 1990 graduate of Whitehaven. “If you can take the DNA of Whitehaven and implement it around the corner and supplement a CTE program, you have the makings of something that could be really special.”

The ASD has proposed a Hillcrest charter conversion, possibly with California-based Green Dot Public Schools as the operator. A community meeting to discuss the plan is scheduled for this Saturday at noon at Abyssinian Missionary Baptist Church, hosted by the Tennessee Black Alliance for Educational Options with the support of the ASD.

Under Hopson’s other proposal, East High School would serve students coming out of Maxine Smith Middle School, which was created last year because the former Fairview Middle School was at risk of state intervention due to chronically low test scores. East High School pulls students from neighborhoods of Binghampton and north Memphis and has seen a 40 percent decline in enrollment in the last five years. Test scores have suffered as well.

Board members gave Hopson the green light to engage the community over the next several months but didn’t indicate whether they are supportive of his proposals.

“This should be a progressive discussion that needs to happen with administrators, schools, communities, and we need to find out if there’s even a need for something like this,” said board member Shante Avant.

Shelby County Schools, created in a 2015 merger of the former Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools, has lost thousands of students in recent years due to demographic shifts, the conversion of dozens of charter schools, and the creation of six suburban municipal school districts. With the enrollment decline, the consolidated district has lost funding, prompting the board to close 17 schools since 2013 and to reorganize others.

Ken Welch, an alumnus of East High School, said later he was open to a reorganization that could restore his alma mater to its glory days.

“I think any involved alumnus of East High has been worried about East’s academic performance for many years, and that the enrollment has dropped to less than 600 just adds to the concern,” said Welch, who graduated from the school in 1968. “Many years ago, East was not only one of the top academic schools in the city, but in the entire region. I think all the alumni would really love to see it restored to that level, not only to support our pride in the school but for the benefit of the students of East and of the community as a whole.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.