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SCS responds to backlash after announcing a possible name change

The district said rebranding doesn't take away from the core work and the business of Shelby County Schools, educating students, and prioritizing literacy.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In a committee meeting on Tuesday, Shelby County Schools announced its plan to rename the district. 

According to a tweet, the district's 'reimagine' plan proposes a new district name, school buildings, and higher teacher pay. 

The district said it engaged students, educators, and other stakeholders about a rebrand in 2019. The proposal was introduced in a State of the District meeting last April. 

"Progress is impossible without change," SCS superintendent Dr. Joris M. Ray tweeted. "Reimagining 901 incorporates a name change that reflects our geographic location and the families we serve. This afternoon, our Board overwhelmingly shared support for our official recommendation to rebrand as Memphis-Shelby County Schools."

Parents took to social media to express their concerns about this initiative. Some parents said they are frustrated the district isn't prioritizing the needs of the schools. 

Justin Gillis has a third-grader in the district. He said Shelby County Schools rebranding campaign comes in the middle of a time when the district is dealing with major problems like teacher shortages, low tests scores, and crumbling infrastructure.

"Why are we rebranding? Why now? It just doesn't make sense," Gillis said. 

Since facing the backlash, SCS responded to ABC 24 Wednesday. 

"This doesn't take away from the core work and the business of Shelby county schools, educating students and prioritizing literacy,"  SCS Spokeswoman Jerica Phillips said.

SCS considered rebranding itself with a new name in April 2019. This is a part of the Reimagine 901 initiative. Reimagine 901 is an extensive plan that would change SCS reputation and invest more in their students, teachers, and community.  

The district's plan includes higher starting salaries for teachers, closing two schools, increasing honors, coding, and stem classes, offering pre-k for all four-year-olds, and opening a medical district high school.

"Just like with any new initiative or project, the opening of a new business or even the birth of a child. The identity in a name signifies who it will represent," Phillips said.

But parents like Gillis said they want to see change first. 

"Let's go forward with the reimagine 901 and let's rebrand as a celebration," Gillis said.

The Shelby County Board of Education (formerly comprised of two smaller districts, Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools) is the county's local education agency, serving more than 110,500 students in more than 214 schools.

According to a presentation, at or around the time of the merger between Memphis and Shelby County School districts, the Shelby County Board of Education was legally named "Shelby County Board of Education" yet continued to use the name "Shelby County Schools" as its DBA (doing business as). 

The district said changing the DBA from Shelby County Schools to Memphis-Shelby County Schools will better align with its geographic location and the students they serve.

The Shelby County Board of Education will keep its legal name. 

The SCS spokesperson also told ABC 24 that rebranding doesn't require additional funds. She said the district already has money allocated for marketing initiatives, but she didn't say how much money is set aside for this project.

A final decision on the rebrand has not been approved yet. The superintendent just made an official recommendation in Tuesday's board meeting. A final vote is expected to happen at the end of the month.