Roadmap to MCS School Success: Clear Vision, Exceptional Strategy, Collective Effort

January 14th, 2011   •   4 comments   

Recently I began working with Senator Mark Norris—someone I have known for 25 years—on his position regarding the current Memphis City School Board’s actions and his duties as the Senate Majority Leader (R-Dist. 32).  For the past week, our office has been fielding media calls and collecting questions for clarification, setting up interviews and generally helping him keep up with what folks need and want to know.  As a parent with two children in the public school system (Shelby County) I am also personally interested in learning more about what we can do to collectively help our children in both the city and the county, do better.  The first question we had to answer was this: Why the rush?  This is complex and important and anything worth doing is worth doing right.  That to me—is the whole point of Senator Norris’ stand.  He has said repeatedly “Unification without unity is not unity at all.”  He calls for a “measured and considered approach” to this possible combination and has been on record this week in Memphis media saying this. 

Senator Norris believes this discussion warrants a clear vision, exceptional strategies and a collective effort by all.  This includes both Mayors, City and County elected officials, the media and every stakeholder in our community.  So we have received a lot of questions today and without further delay, here are the questions with some straight forward answers by Senator Norris:


An interview with Senator Mark Norris


Q:  Simply stated, what is at the heart of this “surrender” effort?

A: The largest school system in Tennessee wants to quit and go out of business.  What happens to our children when this happens suddenly, without a plan?

Q:  What is the real question we should be addressing at large?

A:  How does the City Schools’ action improve education? Period.

Q: Why is a surrender a bad idea?

A: It’s a bad idea for a number of reasons that starts with how a system of 47,000 (3,034 SCS teachers)  students outside the City absorbs 106,000 (6,991 MCS teachers) additional students inside the City;  It’s also a bad idea to rush something so vitally important not only to the children but to Memphis and the surrounding region.  Bigger is not better in this case and our objectives should be strategic, clear and we need to know—not guess or hope—that the solutions we end up with will work.  You can’t just push this through in a vote at a meeting. 

Q:  What are your objectives in this?

A:  To protect the best of what our schools have to offer…to create new opportunities to improve education for every child in our region;  To make education effective and affordable.  To embrace this opportunity for a community-wide effort to find what works best.  To minimize disruption and to give EVERYONE an opportunity to participate but we must UNDERSTAND first.

Q: How do we do what you are advocating we do?

A:  Formulate a crystal clear, measurable strategy for restructuring that would include smaller schools, neighborhood schools, charter schools. 

Q:  What are the impediments?

A:  Confusion, ignorance, fear, lack of time to understand, lack of facts, misstatements of the law, media bias, haste (which makes waste), City of Memphis’ effort to eliminate funding schools, Avoidance of a $57 million judgment, political agendas to name just a few.

Q: Does the current TN law on consolidation of schools allow both Memphis and those outside to vote?


Q: Can you clarify SB25?

A:  SB25 clarifies that if there is to be consolidation, the planning and voting process set forth in the Education Code applies under a section 502 transfer like any other.  It also provides for orderly planning and provision of information to cast an educated vote. 

Q: Why are you involved?

A:  It’s part of my responsibility…not only as Senate Majority Leader and a senator in Shelby County, but as a citizen.  I encourage everyone to constructively engage.  I previously served on the Shelby County Commission.  I chaired the County’s education committee.  I have chaired the County Commission and was heavily involved in funding of both City and County schools.  I nominated and appointed the first African American Superintendent of the Shelby County Schools.  I think it’s important for perspective for people to understand that I’m not just picking this issue for political reasons.  It’s part of who I am and what I feel I have contributed and still want to contribute. 

Q: Is there anything else you’d want people to know?

A:  Yes. We have a “teachable moment” in time and we must take the time to learn.  All of us—not just those in charge of policy.  This outcome directly impacts every person who lives and works and learns in our region.  We have never been at such an important crossroad and we must not rush through it.


Thank you Senator Norris.  Feedback welcome!


  1. Tom Guleff says:

    It is clear that this consolidation of the two school system, and that all voters should have a say in the matter.

  2. Tom Jones says:

    Senator Norris can try to put lipstick on a pig, but his only interest is in pandering to his constituency. No legislation was passed when any other city and county in Tennessee consolidated their districts, but here, he thinks the best government is the one located 210 miles away, which runs contrary to what Republican principles stood for. There are plenty of issues in state government that should keep him busy rather than trying to interfere with Memphis voters rights of self-determination.

    He can wrap the racially-based instincts of suburban politicians in the piety of high-sounding rhetorical flourishes, but it is what it is: the long arm of state government reaching into a decision that is distinctly local.

  3. Tom Guleff says:

    Tom Jones, I respect your writing style. But, everyone in the county understands that this is simply de facto consolidation. How often does the smaller minnow swallow a huge whale ? This is not about self determination of a city with a failed school system. This is about the concentration of political power. The debate is about who gets a voice in consolidation. The Surrender is a fraud.

    The MCS school board could have easily worked a plan to give the system to the mayor or the state. I am sure folks in Nashville would have helped.

  4. Amy Howell says:

    Tom Jones: the lipstick reference is a bit overused but thanks for dropping by. Tom G, thanks for constructive input. What we all need is less shooting at each other & more gun powder for the future of all kids. And as a housekeeping note here: please keep it civil & polite. Thx!

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