Leadership for a new era of public education

besmith@tri-statedefender.com | 5/29/2014, 10:07 a.m.

"The board sought feedback from the community and its been overwhelmingly positive relative to my involvement in the community and ability to set vision and a positive course for the district," said Hopson.

"There won't be any big sticking points or negotiations for more money or anything like that. I suspect that we will be able to get it resolved quickly. I'll also say that some of the candidates for the board have also expressed support and positive sentiments."

And in another trending matter, Hopson said it is not official by any means but there are "some positive indications from the federal government that we may be the official administrator of at least part of the Head Start grant for Shelby County. If and when it does become official, we are prepared to execute."

Here is Part I of the TSD's end-of-the-school-year Q&A with Supt. Hopson:

Bernal E. Smith II: You certainly have to be one of our community's most intriguing leaders and without question have one of its most formidable jobs. What are your reflections on how you came to be SCS superintendent?
Supt. Dorsey Hopson: It's interesting. First, Dr. (Kriner) Cash (Memphis City Schools superintendent) was gone and then Dr. (John) Aitken (superintendent of the old Shelby County Schools system) resigned and then began the questions. Even as I became the interim there were whispers, shouts and doubts about the ability of "this attorney" to handle the district and all the change. There were thoughts that things would fall apart. Truly I felt like that third string quarterback brought off the bench to sling it around and manage not to lose the game.

However, I had perspective and depth of understanding in my favor. I knew the issues of both MCS and SCS as legal counsel for both entities, having counseled both Cash and Aitken on the most difficult challenges facing both districts independently and through the merger. With that depth and breadth of understanding the issues, I was very confident that I could handle the position with sound practical approaches and through building relationships with the team – the principals, the teachers and certainly the families we serve.

BES: You are a product of the public school system here in Memphis and Shelby County, a proud Whitehaven High School graduate. Has being from the area and a product of MCS been helpful in your role as superintendent and in taking on the challenges of the merger and improving student achievement (among others)? Why or why not?
Supt. Hopson: There is no place like home and that can be good and bad. Certainly being from here and realizing the good, the bad and the ugly of the community gives me a unique perspective of this work. I know the history of public education in Memphis and Shelby County. I also know how both school districts have been instrumental in the development of young people over the years.

When we were growing up many of our role models were people who worked in MCS. Scores of principals, coaches and teachers, and of course people like Dr. (Willie W.) Herenton as school superintendent, were influential in our development. When you appreciate how hard so many people have worked over the years, it gave me extra motivation to not only make sure that the school system opened up on time but to make sure that it is a vehicle for providing folks a real opportunity to succeed. ...