School Board Votes to Start School Closure Process

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(Memphis) At Thursday's special call meeting, the Shelby County Board of Education voted to begin the process to close five schools and repurpose another campus into a performing arts magnet program.

 Humes Middle School is proposed to turn into a performing arts school. The other five recommended for closure are Coro Lake Elementary, White's Chapel Elementary, Norris Elementary, Orleans Elementary and Gordon Elementary.

 These six schools were brought to the table, instead of the initial recommendation from the Transition Planning Commission that called for 20 closures.

 The policy in looking at which schools to close include reviewing the academic impact, declining enrollments, population shifts, facility condition and financial impact.

 These closures would potentially help plug the budget gap the merged district faces.

 Community meetings in the neighborhoods of these six schools will be held in the coming months before the board takes a final vote.

 Most of the schools on the list use only up to 65 percent of the campus capacity. Gordon Elementary, however, is at about 90 percent capacity.

 Parents, teachers and students from Gordon Elementary were outspoken in their opposition.

 "I was in utter shock," said Parl Johnson, a parent. "Gordon is more like a family. And I can honestly say that when Lance goes to Gordon elementary school, I know he's in good care."

 Her son, Lance Armstrong, is the fifth grade class president at Gordon.

 "I've been going there since I was a little child," he said. "It makes me feel sad."

 Gordon Elementary is in good academic standing with the state. If closed, the current plan has those students going to Carnes and Caldwell elementary schools.

 Since last year, Gordon Elementary has shared their campus with Gestalt Community Schools, a charter program under the state's Achievement School District.

 Now with this potential closure, Gestalt would take over the building.

 Gestalt currently runs a sixth grade program on the Gordon campus, consisting of students from Humes Middle School.

 Memphis City Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash said the intention is for Gestalt to take over Humes students and expand into a 6-8 program, but that it would be too expensive to refurbish Humes Middle School's building for Gestalt's use.

 That's why Gestalt is on the Gordon campus instead. Their program could eventually grow into a K-8 charter school.

 Dr. Cash said, "We try to work out a situation sooner than later where the ASD schools get the whole school, but take all the kids. That's the piece I want."

 However the situation shakes out, teachers and staff are nervous about their future.

 "If they close Gordon, that means I really don't have a position," said Myrtle Malone, who has been with MCS for almost 40 years.

 She's upset about the many homeless families whose children attend Gordon and the relationship they've built to help these parents.

 She also feels betrayed.

 "They deceived us. They did not tell us when they first came with the charter school, that they were going to take over," she said.

 Many wondered that if Gestalt serves Humes Middle School students, whether Gestalt could set up at the Humes campus, saving Gordon from closure.

 But the board accepted Dr. Cash's recommendation that the better use for Humes would be to transform into the performing arts magnet school.

 Humes students would then have the option of attending that magnet school, or attending Gestalt on the Gordon campus.

 Presentations by staff at the Thursday meeting showed that while some schools in the county were also underutilized, those particular schools could not be closed due to lack of capacity at nearby campuses to accept those students.