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Memphis City Leaders, Students Gather for GradNation Community Summit

MemphisThe city of Memphis held its GradNation Community Summit September 12, 2014 at Christian Brothers University, bringing together 450 students from four local high schools, and more than 50 leaders including Mayor AC Wharton, Jr., Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson, Achievement School District superintendent Chris Barbic, Data Quality Campaign associate director Chris Kingsley, and National League of Cities principle associate Marjorie Cohen. 

The day began with a moderated panel discussion with Mayor AC Wharton, Jr., superintendents, and White House Initiative of Education Excellent executive director David Johns on the critical issues related to the local graduation rate and how to equip students with the skills necessary to be prepared to join the workforce. This portion of the day was part of a community conversation held in conjunction with the National League of Cities and the Department of Education. Key issues discussed during this panel included the critical importance of education and that all kids can learn; poverty as a huge issue for Shelby County students; the importance of caring adults; and the fact that partnerships are essential because schools can not do this work alone

Memphis“The first and most important educators are parents. We need to make sure that all kids have caring adults,” said Johns.

Next, attention was turned to Shelby County data and the connection to the city’s college and career readiness. This conversation was used to help engage the students in a conversation about what this data means to them. Key points:

  • Kindergarten Readiness:  33 percent met early literacy benchmarks (SCS only – Fall 2013)
  • 3rd Grade Reading:  36 percent proficient county-wide (TCAP - 2014)

  • College/Career Readiness:  11 percent met all four ACT benchmarks countywide (class of 2014)
  • Graduation:  74 percent graduated in 2013 (more than 3,000 students did not graduate)
  • Post-secondary Access:  55 percent of the Class of 2013 graduates county-wide enrolled in 2-yr, 4-yr or technical college

The highlights of the day were facilitated group conversations with the students. David Johns kicked this off with an impromptu question and answer session with the students. This student feedback session was designed to gather information that will be used to provide recommendations to Shelby County Schools leadership as too how the district can achieve the 80-90-100 goals by 2025

“We don’t have guidance. We don’t have the necessities for college,” said Kiana Wilson, a senior at East. “We are going into this world blind. We don’t have the materials to be ready for life. It’s a must, but we are not ready to be successful.”

Questions posed to the students included: What can SCS do differently, more of, or better to support students’ college and career readiness? The Data Quality Campaign had videographers on site to record the group discussions and the report outs following each session. This footage will be used to create a video to show the school board and inform the school district’s strategic planning process.

MemphisThe afternoon session for the business community and other adult attendees addressed what it takes to be college- and career-ready for industries in Memphis and what the data presented throughout the day means for these fields. Included were the business community’s role and current initiation in place to prepare and connect students with local career opportunities.

There were four breakout sessions including Inspiring Men of Color session. This was a dynamic panel of national and local expertssharing their experience and knowledge on how to better serve young men of color in Memphis.  The session began with a look at local data as it related to young men of color.

Caring adults emerged again in a discussion about how children become who they see and that as a community Memphis needs to provide more positive images.

"It takes a village to teach a child. You cannot be what you cannot see.” Karen Weddle-West, Interim Provost, University of Memphis.

The school environment needs to be formed in such a way that opportunities and experiences are created that breed success. Children have to feel like they belong in the learning system. There was also a discussion on internal (school district) and external strategies that can be used, including parent engagement strategies, dual enrollment, mentoring to create relationships, and coaching to impact performance. 

Several important and consistent messages and themes came out of summit.

MemphisImportant role of the business community. Students need to be exposed to experiences and caring adults that prepares them for a successful future.

Authentic community and student engagement. There is a need to listen to young people, challenge young people and affirm them. The space for conversations about college and career readiness can’t take place without including the youth voice in the conversation.

Graduation conversation must start in middle school. This is cradle to career work and really starts before a child is born.

Post-secondary options and community colleges. There is a need to be thoughtful about the full range of post-secondary opportunities so people can make meaningful decisions. The community can’t talk about 2-year colleges and junior colleges as back up plans.

Building on the work of the Dropout Prevention Summits held from 2008 to 2010, these summits are intended to fuel and accelerate progress at the local level to reach the GradNation goal of a 90 percent nationwide high school graduation rate by 2020. Communities use their convening power to create awareness, engagement and coordinated action to increase graduation rates. The GradNation Community Summits are supported by Premier Sponsor AT&T.

Learn more about GradNation Community Summits and find one in your area.