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'We are rewriting our history'; SCS superintendent lays out 'Reimagining 901' proposals for district

Longterm plan targets improving student achievement, upgrading and expanding aging school buildings.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Higher teacher pay, renovated schools - even new branding 'Memphis Shelby County Schools.

SCS Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray laid out those ideas and more Friday morning in his second State of the District address.

It's a bold blueprint with a key next step: getting Shelby County Commissioners to buy in.

"We are rewriting our history and it starts today with student achievement," Dr. Ray said Friday morning at the Hilton in East Memphis.

With passion and conviction, Dr. Ray laid out his longterm vision to bolster classroom learning and revamp aging schools.

"We are going to move the needle," Dr. Ray said.

In what Dr. Ray described as 'Reimagining 901', the SCS superintendent proposed adding 960 school positions, primarily K-2 teacher assistants to cut the teacher-student ratio in those grades in half.

Honors STEM courses would be added at the middle school level and AP course access would be expanded in high schools.

SCS starting teaching minimum pay would be bumped from $43,000 to nearly $46,000 - potentially the highest on average in the state.

"First and foremost we need to support our teachers, they are the ones on the front line, they are the ones who make sure children get everything they need," SCS Board Chair Miska Clay Bibbs said.

"That would definitely be good for teacher retention, teacher recruitment, especially during a pandemic, you know, we are in the middle of a pandemic, we need something to recruit teachers and something to retain teachers," United Education Association President Danette Stokes added.

The superintendent is also hopeful available federal dollars will be used as emergency relief to repair and upgrade schools, part of an estimated $500 million in deferred maintenance.

"It's a way forward, it's a fresh start for us," Dr. Ray said.

District leaders cited recent expansion and renovations at Alcy Elementary - along with Parkway Village Elementary - as examples of the positive impact state of the art schools can have on surrounding neighborhoods.

"What happens when you make an investment in a community you see a new sense of pride," Dr. John Barker, SCS' Deputy Superintendent for Strategic Operations and Finance, said.

Next week, the SCS School Board and Shelby County Commissioners will hear more specifics on the plan to expand and renovate schools.

For additional details on the 'Reimagining 901' plan, go to: https://www.scsk12.org/stateofthedistrict/.