District leaders share anticipated costs, benefits of Whitehaven ‘Empowerment Zone’

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- As the Shelby County School District stares down a $27.4 million budget gap, many leaders are trying to do more with less.

WREG asked leaders about the costs of Whitehaven's upcoming "Empowerment Zone."

"Probably for the first phase, probably be about $150,000, but as we take on more schools, probably that amount for each school," said Superintendent Dorsey Hopson.

The pilot program takes five schools in the bottom 10 percent in the state that feed into Whitehaven High School.

Those schools include Havenview Middle, A. Maceo Walker, Holmes Road Elementary, Manor Lake Elementary, and Robert R. Church Elementary.

It gives Whitehaven Principal Dr. Vincent Hunter the power to work on programming and better align curriculum.

Whitehaven students earned more than $124 million in scholarships this year.

"It just makes common sense for a sixth grade math teacher to know what's going on in 11th grade pre-calculus class," Hunter told WREG.

"He said, 'Well, Supt. I'm worried, because my ninth graders are increasingly coming to me knowing less,'" Hopson recalled to County Commissioners Wednesday.

Hunter said many students are entering high school not reading on grade level, and he wants to change that.

The pilot gives leaders a break from cookie cutter approaches to education.

That aspect makes it similar to SCS' turnaround effort, the iZone district.

Hopson said turning around a school in the iZone costs about $600,000.

Plans for the Empowerment Zone appear to come with a lower sticker price, at this point.

"It's not going to be funded like iZone. Again, we were charged with doing more with less, so it's no significant investment from the district," Hunter said.

Havenview Middle will be the first school to join Whitehaven High in the Empowerment Zone next fall.

A. Maceo Walker will join in the Empowerment Zone's second year.

The elementary schools will join in the third year.

The program hopes to improve schools before they are subject to state takeover.

That can happen to schools in the bottom five percent.

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