MEMPHIS, TN - In a bold speech before his school board, Memphis City Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash said surrendering the charter will not cure what ails the district's children.
"We are segregated economically in a way I can't explain," he told the panel, "and it needs to be addressed. It must be aggressively addressed, and putting the two systems together does not address that."
The statistics he released during Monday night's board meeting are stunning. MCS failed 114 kindergartners last year, children with no access to Pre-K courses or parental support, who enter school far behind the curve.
The job of educating the city's children is so challenging, Dr. Cash says 40-percent of MCS teachers leave after their first three years.
And the district itself is so unappealing, Memphis loses five middle income families each day.
But there's been progress during Superintendent Cash's tenure. School violence, he told the board, is down from 159 serious incidents per 1,000 students two years ago, to 23 per 1,000 today.
His administration's developing more Pre-K classes and pushing for better, easier access to health care for the kids.
The district's graduation rate is now above 70-percent, something Cash is proud to announce. He said Memphis is faring much better in this area than other urban districts. Chicago's graduation rate, he says, is 41-percent. Baltimore is 53-percent. Los Angeles is 48-percent.
Cash credits the district's positive momentum to the board's adoption of tough academic initiatives, and he applauds his team for their dedication in carrying out his "cradle to career" education plan.
Surrender the charter, he warned the board, and you risk jeopardizing a plan that's already showing signs of progress.
"We have a plan that will work," he says. "Our children and our staff need time and continued board and community support to work the plan. And we'll be successful. We must be successful."