New State-Run School District Is Facing An Old Problem

Apr 3, 2012


Come August, the state will be calling the shots at Frayser Elementary, Corning Elementary, and Westside Middle. The schools are the first to be announced in Tennessee’s Achievement School District. The achievement district was created as a part of the state’s application to get federal “Race to the Top” money and it is a state-run district for low performing schools.

The ambitious goal of the achievement district is to take schools that are among the lowest performing 5 percent of schools in the state, and move them to the top 25 percent in the next five years. But the new district is facing an old problem—how to get more parents involved.

Last week, the state held three meetings for parents. The first was at Frayser Elementary. About 450 students attend Frayser Elemenary, but there weren’t 10 parents at the meeting.

Darlene Jones did attend the meeting with her two sons, both Frayser Elementary students, and she looked around in surprise.

“It’s not the teachers not doing their part. So, I think it’s more so the parents. ‘Cause, if you look at the turnout here. I’m amazed,” Jones said.

At least half the chairs sat empty, and there was more than enough food to go around. Jones walked away from the meeting with an entire box of pizza.

The largest turnout was at Westside Middle where there was a performance by the school choir and the dance team. More than 50 parents, teachers and kids showed up. There was a lot less pizza leftover, but with more than 300 students attending the school—that was hardly a quorum, or even a majority.

“A lot of our parents are young,” said Lisa Collins, who was at the Westside meeting. “My daughter is 19 and she’s a parent. She doesn’t know how to be a parent. She still thinks it’s okay to put on booty shorts and go outside.”

Collins has 10 kids, two of her own and eight she adopted, all when she was around 30- years-old. Collins’ youngest daughter goes to Westside. And seven of her children attended Corning, another school the state will be running in August. Collins used to be president of the parent organization at Corning. She says she got parents to meetings by raffling off gift cards.

“For groceries, for gas, or just VISA gift cards,” Collins said. 

Getting more parents involved is not a problem isolated to the Achievement School District. It’s something urban schools struggle with all across the country. And it’s a hot topic of discussion among the people planning the consolidation of Memphis and Shelby County Schools. Superintendent of the new Achievement School District Chris Barbic says there is no magic bullet.

“If this were easy, it would have already happened,” Barbic said.