‘Re-Imagining 901′: Shelby County Schools superintendent delivers State of the District address

Updated: Apr. 16, 2021 at 1:38 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County Schools is getting a facelift with the announcement of the Re-Imagining Plan by Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray Friday.

The theme of the 2nd annual State of the District address by Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray was reimagining 901 and this reimagining includes a lot of dramatic changes for the district, including a potential name change.

“Memphis Shelby County Schools, do you like that?!” Dr. Joris Ray asked as the audience in attendance applauded.

Soon, the 23rd largest school district in the country may not be called Shelby County Schools.

Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray proposed a new name: Memphis Shelby County Schools.

Dr. Ray believes the name change will be a fresh start and adds more identification with the area.

“One thing our students said, I’m from Memphis,” Dr. Ray said. “Shelby County Schools was absent of the name of Memphis. And my dad used to say it’s power in a name.”

Beyond the name change, Dr. Ray proposed dramatic changes to academics.

Proposals include adding dual language and bilingual programs for all pre-K through 12th-grade students, pre-K for all 4-year-olds and decreasing the student to adult ratio in kindergarten through 2nd grade from 1 to 25 to 1 to 13.

Those additional adults mean SCS is now hiring, and the plan is to put a trained teacher assistant, in classrooms.

“It’s critical to have another adult inside of that classroom making that happen so we can have small group instruction,” Dr. Angela Whitelaw, Deputy Superintendent of Academic for SCS said. “And it can help with foundational skills so we’re excited about the work that we’re doing with adult to student ratio.”

Other proposed changes include exploring later start times for high schools and creating theatre or visual performing arts programs in all schools.

The re-imagining plan also includes increasing teacher pay making SCS teachers the highest paid in the state of Tennessee.

“Definitely want to be able to support our teachers,” Miska Clay Bibbs, Shelby County School Board Chair said. “They’re the ones on the front line, they’re the ones who make sure our kids get everything they need.”

Part of the reimagining plan presented by Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray also includes dramatic improvements to facilities and schools in the district that need desperately to be improved and repaired.

Dr. Ray that this funding is coming from a unique opportunity of federal dollars being freed up by COVID-19 stimulus relief bills.

Leaders of Shelby County Schools say hundreds of millions of dollars are at their disposal thanks to COVID-19 relief bills passed by Congress and the funds have very few strings attached.

“Yeah these extra dollars are going to be a game-changer definitely,” John Barker, Deputy Superintendent for Operations at SCS said.

According to SCS, there is a $500 million facilities maintenance deficit that continues to grow.

During Friday’s State of the District Address, district leaders announced their plan to use federal funds to address that deficit.

“What we’re hoping to do is make a major investment on HVACs and roofs and windows, water quality projects to really get us to a place where we may be able to cut it in half or so,” Barker said.

Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray also proposed a name change for Shelby County Schools to Memphis Shelby County Schools.

A change that will also include a brand new logo.

“It’s a way forward, it’s a fresh start,” Dr. Ray said.

“It’s the opportunity for us to really define who we are,” Bibbs said.

The Reimagining 901 plan will be presented in greater detail to the Shelby County School Board on Monday and needs to be approved by both school board members and county commissioner on Wednesday and then the name change from Shelby County Schools to Memphis Shelby County Schools also needs to be approved by the state of Tennessee.

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