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HomeEducationMemphis college students return to class for first day of faculty

Memphis college students return to class for first day of faculty

Rayvn Webster hasn’t had a typical highschool expertise.

Simply earlier than Webster started her freshman 12 months at Germantown Excessive Faculty in 2019, her dad died immediately of a coronary heart assault, proper round Father’s Day and his birthday. 9 months later, as Webster continued to grieve and modify to highschool, Memphis-Shelby County Colleges closed its doorways as a result of COVID. And the pandemic would proceed to wreak havoc on Webster’s sophomore and junior years.

Reflecting on the primary day of her senior 12 months Monday, Webster stated she feels one thing she hasn’t felt shortly: normalcy. 

Webster was one among over 100,000 MSCS college students to return to lecture rooms on Monday for the primary day of 2022-23 — which college students, educators, and directors hope will ship on their want for a superbly regular 12 months.

At Germantown Excessive Faculty, minutes earlier than the primary bell rang Monday, a whole bunch of scholars milled round exterior, chatting and laughing with their friends as they trickled into the constructing for sophistication. 

Donning their first-day-of-school finest, college students carried backpacks full of faculty provides and greeted lecturers and associates. And for the primary time in years, they had been unencumbered by ideas of masks, digital studying, and the numerous different COVID restrictions they’d change into accustomed to.

In some ways, the primary day of faculty appeared to sign the comeback everybody had anticipated final 12 months after they returned to lecture rooms for the primary time in 18 months, solely to must cope with extra COVID surges, ever-changing masks steering, staffing struggles, and psychological well being points, amongst different challenges.

In different methods, the beginning of the 12 months is something however regular. Questions on who will lead MSCS this faculty 12 months and past proceed to loom over Tennessee’s largest faculty district. 

Superintendent Joris Ray stays on paid administrative go away pending an exterior investigation into whether or not he abused his energy and violated district insurance policies by partaking in relationships with subordinates. It stays unclear how lengthy the investigation will final, however Ray’s destiny with the district will possible be determined by the new faculty board shaped after Thursday’s election.

And like most city faculty techniques throughout the nation, Memphis faces plenty of different difficulties, corresponding to continued tutorial restoration wants from the pandemic, declining enrollment, and gun violence.

District leaders harassed Monday that they’re centered on supporting college students and households and persevering with the tutorial development proven on the district’s most up-to-date state standardized check scores. 

A man and a woman speak at a podium in front of a Memphis-Shelby County Schools sign

John Barker, deputy superintendent for strategic operations and finance, and Angela Whitelaw, deputy superintendent of faculties and tutorial assist, converse to reporters in regards to the first day of faculty throughout a Monday press convention.

Samantha West / Chalkbeat

Deputy Superintendents John Barker and Angela Whitelaw, who’re filling in for Ray, spent the day visiting colleges throughout the county to “wrap their arms round” the district group. At a press convention Monday morning at Hickory Ridge Elementary Faculty, Barker referred to as the primary day a celebration of the district’s mother and father, college students, educators, and employees.

“It’s an ideal day for an ideal day,” Barker, deputy superintendent for strategic operations and finance, instructed the group of reporters, district directors, and lecturers . “That is the primary day of the perfect faculty 12 months.”

Tennessee Training Commissioner Penny Schwinn additionally joined Barker and Whitelaw on Monday for a tour of Bolton Excessive Faculty, residence to a brand new AgriSTEM program, and Germantown Excessive Faculty, one among 4 Shelby County campuses affected by a brand new state regulation that might drive the Memphis district to cede the properties to suburban faculty techniques.

Schwinn lauded what she noticed at Bolton and Germantown, in addition to the district’s general tutorial enchancment this 12 months, which she credited to leaders’ give attention to literacy and their use of federal COVID aid funding for tutoring and lowering student-to-adult ratios.

“That’s the sort of work that you simply need to see, and I’m very enthusiastic about what their developments are displaying,” Schwinn stated.

A lot of those self same techniques will proceed this 12 months, Whitelaw stated, because the district has its sights set on new long-range targets: It needs 74% of scholars to be studying on grade stage by 2030, and 70% of scholars to be on grade stage in math.

“We imagine that literacy is the spine for our district; it’s the leaping off to all of our college students,” stated Whitelaw, deputy superintendent of faculties and tutorial assist.

Whitelaw and Barker additionally emphasised rebuilding belief all through the group and bettering the tradition and local weather in colleges. They shared a brand new acronym they’re utilizing to information their management: CARES, for compassion, accountability, respect, beautiful execution, and servant management.

Requested whether or not changing into performing co-superintendents has precipitated any challenges for them or the district, Whitelaw stated that Ray’s cupboard has all the time been a tight-knit staff and that, whereas she and Barker have added obligations, they “know learn how to deal with these challenges.”

“I feel the start of the 12 months is all the time a urgent time for us, as a result of we need to ensure that issues are proper for college kids and households,” Whitelaw stated. “I feel daily we stand up making an attempt to do the perfect that we are able to; that we all know learn how to do.”

MSCS board Chair Michelle McKissack stated the transition to Barker and Whitelaw was seamless, and the board has “full confidence in our management at each stage of the college district.”

Students sit in desks arranged in groups of four in a classroom

A gaggle of Germantown Excessive Faculty college students work on an project on Monday, the primary day of the 2022-23 faculty 12 months.

Samantha West / Chalkbeat

District-level management wasn’t on Webster’s thoughts Monday as her final 12 months at Germantown  Excessive Faculty kicked off. After all of the hardships of the final a number of years — her dad’s loss of life, the social isolation of on-line studying, the troublesome adjustment again to in-person studying final 12 months at the same time as COVID raged — Webster says she and plenty of of her friends are centered on absorbing all of the normalcy they will get.

“For some time, I used to be drained. I used to be battling by way of despair with all the pieces I may. I had no vitality to stand up and exit, and it was horrible,” Webster stated. “It was the identical for my associates, too.”

“I simply hope this 12 months continues to be good — or perhaps even will get higher,” she added. “It’s my final 12 months. I need to have enjoyable earlier than the cap and robe.”

Samantha West is a reporter for Chalkbeat Tennessee, the place she covers Ok-12 schooling in Memphis. Join with Samantha at



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