About those "Berlin Wall" doors NY Times says blocks path between MCS, SCS

The New York Times national education reporter, Sam Dillon, is the latest in a long line of education journalists with national reach to visit Memphis and Shelby County. We met him at the Oct. 10 organizational meeting of the 23-member unified Shelby County Board of Education, when it picked Billy Orgel as chairman and Dr. Jeff Warren as vice-chairman. Dillon's article, published Sunday, makes clear why this is an important national story, not least because, as he claims, it "is the largest school district consolidation in American history and poses huge logistical challenges." He then proceeds to lay out some of them:
Memphis teachers are unionized, Shelby County's are not; the county owns its yellow buses, the city relies on a contractor; and the two districts use different textbooks and different systems to evaluate teachers.

Toughest of all may be bridging the chasms of race and class. Median family income in Memphis is $32,000 a year, compared with the suburban average of $92,000; 85 percent of students in Memphis are black, compared with 38 percent in Shelby County.
Interestingly, he ends the story discussing the second-floor walkway at the Board of Education that connects the Memphis City Schools offices to Shelby County Schools offices:
A corridor linking the two wings of the building has, for years, had double-locked doors whose glass panels are covered with particle board. "This is our Berlin Wall," said Irving Hamer, Memphis's deputy superintendent.

Coincidentally, that's how I began this morning's story looking at ways the two districts already are combining efforts, on things like adopting textbooks, serving on transition commission committees and, likely very soon, modernizing data systems. Here's what I wrote:
At the Board of Education office complex off Hollywood, where Memphis City Schools and the Shelby County Schools have coexisted side by side for more than four decades, there is a second-floor walkway connecting the two districts.

Staffers are using it, says SCS Supt. John Aitken, for the first time in years if not decades. In the past, the path was completely blocked and used as a storage area, Aitken said.

As the process of merging MCS with SCS accelerates, the traffic along that inter-district avenue figures to increase.

The New York Times story ends with the claim that the hallway was still barred by those formidable double-locked doors. My conversation with Aitken about the walkway came on Oct. 20, and he gave every indication there would be more use of it, for practical reasons. He also said that one reason the walkway had been blocked in the past was over security protocols that called for specific access points at only a number of areas.

My conversation with Aitken came right before the schools merger transition commission, the school board and key staff from both systems heard from Chattanooga-Hamilton County leaders about their merger in the 90s. As I point out in today's story, one of the things emphasized in that meeting was how crucial it was for staff in the merging systems to regularly gather and create a sense of teamwork and togetherness.

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As the process for merging Shelby County's schools accelerates into action, we'll provide bonus coverage here at www.MemphisNewsBlog.com, 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 zmcmillin@commercialappeal.com or 529-2564.

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