The Commercial Appeal
District, CBU revive partnership plan
University seeks to convert Fairview to STEM laboratory
The unified Memphis and Shelby County school district and Christian Brothers University may be closing in on a long- sought arrangement that would convert Fairview Middle School into a laboratory school for the university’s department of education.
Tentative plans call for the school to have a socalled “zero attendance zone” — to be an open enrollment school, in other words — with a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum.
The unified board took no immediate action on the University Corridor proposal at Tuesday’s monthly business meeting but is awaiting a more specific plan that the administration is expected to present to the board in July.
Interim Supt. Dorsey Hopson describes the plan as an “awesome opportunity” to turn the remodeled school at the corner of East Parkway and Central into a “Midtown jewel.”
A partnership between CBU and Memphis City Schools, which goes out of business Monday as it is absorbed into the merged MCS and Shelby County Schools district, has been discussed at least since 2009.
“There are still a lot of pieces to put together. I’m not going to say this is a done deal,” said CBU president John Smarrelli Jr. “But we’re very optimistic, given where CBU wants to go, and that includes being more relevant to the community.”
CBU’s department of education, which turns out about 50 prospective teachers a year with an emphasis on science and technology, is prepared to work with either the unified school district or the Achievement School District to develop the laboratory school program at Fairview, said department
chairman Richard Potts.
“We want this to be a very special endeavor for all involved,” Potts said.
Unified board member Betty Mallott has championed the proposal as a win-win for public education and CBU.
“I’m happy to hear that (district administrators) are having productive talks with CBU staff,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to partner with a university that focuses on engineering. … My fantasy is that they would help students to move on into their university.”
Implementation of the plan might require going through the process of officially closing Fairway, where average test scores place the school among the state’s bottom 5 percent in performance, thus making it eligible for takeover by the state-managed Achievement School District. It would be given a fresh start under the new arrangement with CBU, perhaps as soon as the fall of 2014.
The latest plan for the “University Corridor 6-8 Lab School Proposal,” authored by associate professor Samantha M. Alperin, director of undergraduate/ graduate education programs at CBU, describes the University Corridor as the area covered by Peabody, Rozelle, Idlewild and Hanley elementary schools.
“Parents of students at the University Corridor elementary schools do not always find existing middle schools to be the best option for their higher-achieving children and look to optional schools including Snowden’s and White Station Middle’s optional programs as the best viable options for their children,” the proposal states.
“With the push for more science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) across the nation as well as the implementation of the Common Core Standards, it would be a natural fit for CBU’s department of education to form a professional development connection in this area.”
The proposal notes that CBU would also be interested in researching the new middle school’s potential as an extension of the university’s existing involvement with MCS’ Middle College High School, a zero-attendance-zone school that serves about 200 students in grades 9-12 who take dual enrollment classes for college credit both on the Fairview campus and at nearby CBU.
The proposal calls for the district to hire teachers for the school, which would serve some 200 to 250 students, with priority given to students from the University Corridor elementary schools and a determined number of spaces reserved for disadvantaged students.
The school would allow CBU’s department of education to place teacher candidates in the school for observation, tutoring, and/or student teaching, and faculty would be allowed access to classrooms and test scores for professional development and other purposes.
Parents would be required to attend conferences, open houses and the like to show support for their children’s participation in the college-prep program.