Next chapter

Carver High to partly retain name as new use begins for closed Memphis school

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
School board member Shante Avant answers questions about shuttered Carver High School from community members in Memphis with Ralph White.

While the recently closed Carver High School will have students again this fall by housing two existing alternative programs, the building will keep its name — sort of.

The reconfigured school will be known as George Washington Carver College and Career Academy, according to Shante Avant, a member of the Shelby County Schools Board of Education.

Avant offered the update to about 35 Carver High alumni and supporters Monday evening at Bloomfield Baptist Church.

The newest name serves an olive branch to the South Memphis neighborhood where Carver High was an anchor for 59 years before the school board decided in June to close it. District administrators said the school was significantly under-enrolled, with about 1,000 empty seats, and a long list of maintenance needs.

Last week, when Superintendent Dorsey Hopson announced that the district would repurpose the building by moving in two alternative schools for 300 students, the reconfigured school was to be called MLK College and Career Academy.

But Avant said district leaders recognize Carver’s history and legacy in the community. They plan to keep the high school’s current outside signage and retain part of its name in the school’s new moniker.

“We don’t want this community obliterated,” Avant said. “Closing the building and boarding it up would do just that. … And we also recognize that the name of the school is an important piece to this community.”

Though keeping George Washington Carver in the name is helpful, it’s not enough, said Edward Vaughn, president of the Carver alumni association and pastor at New Revelation M.B. Church.

“It doesn’t thrill me that this new program may be in the building indefinitely,” Vaughn said. “Moving 200 kids out of the school, then bringing in 300 kids, I just don’t understand the rationale. We understand the needs of the district, but we keep asking, ‘why our school? Why always our schools?'”

Many alumni and community members opposed closing Carver High this year, and some have been exploring legal action against the school board to force the district to reopen the neighborhood school.

Avant said the alternative programs will occupy the building for at least a year, but it’s not a long-term solution, as Carver was built to house 1,200 students.

“The meetings today are the start of a dialogue with the community about their interests for future use of the school,” Avant said. “My intent is to work closely with the community as we think of best uses for the school.”

The meeting also was attended James Suggs, director of the new school, and Valerie Matthews, director of alternative schools for the district.

back to court

Nashville appeals judge’s order to share student information with state charters

The battle over student contact information will continue between Tennessee’s charter schools and its second largest school district.

Attorneys for Metro Nashville Public Schools on Friday appealed Chancellor Bill Young’s order to provide state-run charter schools with the names, phone numbers, and addresses of students.

The appeal came on the same day that Young originally set for Nashville’s district to comply with a new state law requiring sharing such information if charter operators request it. But a recent court extension assured Nashville leaders that they could exhaust the appeals process first.

The disagreement — which also touches on student privacy, school choice, and enrollment — has vexed state officials and lawmakers as they’ve sought to mitigate skirmishes between the state’s growing charter sector and its two largest districts, in Nashville and Memphis. Last month, Gov. Bill Haslam brought all parties to the table to seek a solution outside the courts. The State Department of Education was tasked with developing a way forward, but has not yet submitted a proposal.

While the state has urged local districts to comply with the year-old charter law, Nashville leaders argue it runs afoul of a federal law that gives districts discretion over who gets student contact information. For instance, school systems routinely share such information with companies that sell yearbooks and class rings.

The tussle has implications for the state’s largest school system, Shelby County Schools, in Memphis. Leaders there also have refused to hand over the information to charters in the state’s Achievement School District, which seeks to turn around Tennessee’s lowest-performing schools.

What Memphis parents should know about how schools share student information

Parents are divided on the issue. Some say the information exchange is an invasion of privacy, including when a Nashville charter school sent a barrage of text messages to parents, resulting in a $2.2 million settlement last year. Others say allowing charters to contact prospective students allows them to better explore their options.

Starting young

These 11-year-old Brooklyn students are asking New York City to do something about segregated schools

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Matilda and Eliza Seki, left, and their friends Noa and Benji Weiss, right, collected signatures at a district 15 meeting to discuss middle school integration efforts.

While they learned about the history of segregation, a group of Brooklyn 11-year-olds took a good look around their classrooms and realized their schools weren’t so different from the photos in their textbooks.

So Matilda and Eliza Seki paired up with their friends Noa and Benji Weiss — two sets of twins — and decided to do something about it. They launched a petition on calling on the city to integrate its schools.

“We learned about separate and equal in the civil rights movement, and that it was not equal,” Eliza said, referring to the “separate but equal” legal doctrine once used to justify segregation. “And since there are schools with people of only one race, and it’s all separated, it cannot be equal.”

Matilda and Eliza are in the sixth grade at M.S. 839, and Noa and Benji are fifth-graders at P.S. 10. They already have a bit of experience in activism, having joined the Women’s March in D.C., and helping to lead environmental clubs at their school. They hold sophisticated views for kids their age, and are aware of the hurdles ingrained in addressing school segregation.

Describing how housing patterns can tie into school quality, Benji began his thoughts by saying: “Let’s say you’re from a different culture or race and you don’t have as much money as other people do — because we still live in a racist country — and you’re in an area where the housing is cheaper but you don’t have as good schools.”

Across New York City, adults have debated how to spur integration in the country’s largest school system — and one of the most segregated. According to one recent analysis, the city’s most selective high schools enroll 84 percent white and Asian students, even though those groups make up only 30 percent of the city’s student enrollment.

But student-organized groups have also been at the forefront of a grassroots movement for more diverse schools. The work of budding advocates Matilda, Eliza, Noa and Benji caught the attention of some those groups, and they’ve now joined the ranks of Teens Take Charge and IntegrateNYC as some of the youngest members. The changes they’d like to see go beyond admissions policies, but also include a push for additional resources for underserved schools, hiring more teachers of color and curricula that reflects all students and cultures.

“We decided it was an important issue and we wanted to help fix it,” Noa said.

Matilda added: “Our schools should look like our city.”

Their schools are in District 15, where 81 percent of white students are concentrated in just three of the district’s most selective middle schools, according to an analysis by parents. The city has launched a series of public workshops to craft a new admissions model to integrate middle schools there, but these kids already have their own ideas for how to do that.

Benji, who is heading to middle school next year, said it would be “pretty good” if schools stopped picking students based on criteria such as class grades and attendance. Such “screening” contributes to segregation because of a number of factors — from which elementary schools students attend, to their parents’ ability to navigate the complicated admissions process.  

“It’s… important to learn about different peoples’ backgrounds, and religions, and cultures,” he said. “And also to make sure that all kids, no matter their race, religion or where they live can get the same, good education.”