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HomeEducation NewsMemphis 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 yr at Germantown Excessive Faculty in 2019, her dad died all of a sudden of a coronary heart assault, proper round Father’s Day and his birthday. 9 months later, as Webster continued to grieve and regulate to highschool, Memphis-Shelby County Faculties closed its doorways on account 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 yr 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 school 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 yr.

At Germantown Excessive Faculty, minutes earlier than the primary bell rang Monday, tons of 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 filled with faculty provides and greeted academics and pals. And for the primary time in years, they had been unencumbered by ideas of masks, digital studying, and the various different COVID restrictions they’d develop into accustomed to.

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

In different methods, the beginning of the yr is something however regular. Questions on who will lead MSCS this faculty yr 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 seemingly be determined by the new faculty board shaped after Thursday’s election.

And like most city faculty methods throughout the nation, Memphis faces quite a lot of different difficulties, equivalent to continued educational restoration wants from the pandemic, declining enrollment, and gun violence.

District leaders burdened Monday that they’re centered on supporting college students and households and persevering with the educational progress proven on the district’s most up-to-date state standardized take a look at 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 colleges and educational help, communicate 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 neighborhood. At a press convention Monday morning at Hickory Ridge Elementary Faculty, Barker known as the primary day a celebration of the district’s dad and mom, college students, educators, and employees.

“It’s an amazing day for an amazing day,” Barker, deputy superintendent for strategic operations and finance, instructed the gang of reporters, district directors, and academics . “That is the primary day of one of the best faculty yr.”

Tennessee Schooling Commissioner Penny Schwinn additionally joined Barker and Whitelaw on Monday for a tour of Bolton Excessive Faculty, house 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 power the Memphis district to cede the properties to suburban faculty methods.

Schwinn lauded what she noticed at Bolton and Germantown, in addition to the district’s general educational enchancment this yr, which she credited to leaders’ deal with literacy and their use of federal COVID aid funding for tutoring and decreasing student-to-adult ratios.

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

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

“We consider that literacy is the spine for our district; it’s the leaping off to all of our college students,” stated Whitelaw, deputy superintendent of colleges and educational help.

Whitelaw and Barker additionally emphasised rebuilding belief all through the neighborhood 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 turning into appearing co-superintendents has triggered any challenges for them or the district, Whitelaw stated that Ray’s cupboard has at all times been a tight-knit crew and that, whereas she and Barker have added tasks, they “know how you can deal with these challenges.”

“I feel the start of the yr is at all times a urgent time for us, as a result of we wish to ensure issues are proper for college kids and households,” Whitelaw stated. “I feel daily we rise up attempting to do the perfect that we will; that we all know how you can 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 degree of the varsity 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 yr.

Samantha West / Chalkbeat

District-level management wasn’t on Webster’s thoughts Monday as her final yr at Germantown  Excessive Faculty kicked off. After all of the hardships of the final a number of years — her dad’s demise, the social isolation of on-line studying, the tough adjustment again to in-person studying final yr whilst 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 means of despair with every thing I might. I had no power to rise up and exit, and it was horrible,” Webster stated. “It was the identical for my pals, too.”

“I simply hope this yr continues to be good — or possibly even will get higher,” she added. “It’s my final yr. I wish 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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