Memphis-Shelby schools merger transition team looks for lessons from Chattanooga merger

Thursday's third meeting of Shelby County's schools merger transition commission will feature a panel and roundtable discussion with key leaders who helped guide the Chattanooga-Hamilton County schools merger. Among them will be Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools Director Jesse Register, who then was the Hamilton County superintendent, and Jack Murrah, a community leader who helped with the formation of the Chattanooga Community Education Alliance under then-mayor and current U.S. Sen. Bob Corker.  

The meeting of the 21-member team is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the University of Memphis's FedEx Institute of Technology. Members of the 23-member school board and staff from both school systems are expected to attend, as well.

There is no other business on the agenda. Chairwoman Barbara Prescott said she sees the meeting as a way of "framing" the mission the commission. Mike Casserly, who has served as executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools since 1992, will facilitate the panel and guide the subsequent discussion period.

Hamilton County Schools absorbed the Chattanooga city school district in the mid-1990s.

"We think it's going to be instructive and will give us some ideas about the issues that arose and how they feel it is doing now - plus they are in the state of Tennessee," Prescott said.

Read more about the meeting after the jump below:
One of the documents included in the email to commission members about Chattanooga is a long 1995 Education Week article that opens with the sentence: "The word on everyone's lips here is fear."

But it ends on a more optimistic note with language similar to messages heard at transition commission meetings and gatherings of Shelby County's new unified school board.

"I'm looking forward to getting the strengths from both systems, in people as well as programs, and to doing what is best for the child," an assistant principal, Debbie Scarbrough, is quoted as saying.

During the charter surrender debates in the winter, opponents of consolidation inside the city held a rally that included former  Chattanooga school board member Sherman Matthews, who had opposed consolidation in Chattanooga and said the only thing that had changed for most city schools was who controlled the schools.

"I'm surprised people (in Memphis) are so eager to give up what they have control over,"  Matthews said at a rally in Memphis in February.
The transition commission membership is comprised of 11 suburban Shelby County residents and 10 residents of Memphis.  The unified board, which has ultimate authority over all transition decisions including the final plan, has 14 Memphis residents and nine suburban Shelby County residents.

Prescott said the group hopes to hold similar future meetings, including with those involved in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg (N.C.) system, which midway through the last decade  responded to complaints about its size by implementing smaller "learning communities" with area superintendents.

"We hope to do a number of different learning sessions like this," Prescott said.

Next week, the commission will return its regular meeting location at the Shelby County Code Enforcement offices at Shelby Farms, at 4:30 Thursday.


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As the process for merging Shelby County's schools accelerates into action, we'll provide bonus coverage here at, with a particular focus on the 21-member transition team and the 23-member unified school board. Comment early and often. If you have any tips or suggestions you wish to share, contact Zack McMillin at or 529-2564.

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