Memphis-Shelby County Schools

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Memphis-Shelby County Schools
Shelby County Schools (Tennessee) logo.JPG
Old logo
160 S. Hollywood Street
, Shelby County, Tennessee, 38112
United States
District information
SuperintendentDr. Joris M. Ray
School boardShelby County Board of Education
Chair of the boardMichelle Robinson McKissack
Schools214 (2021-22)[1]
NCES District ID4700148[2]
Students and staff
Students110,500 (2021-22)[1]
Teachers6,000 (2021-22)[1]
Staff13,900 (2021-22)[1]
Student–teacher ratio16.92 (2020-21)[2]
Other information

Memphis-Shelby County Schools (MSCS), previously known as Shelby County Schools (SCS), is a public school district that serves the city of Memphis, Tennessee, United States, as well as most of the unincorporated areas of Shelby County.[3] MSCS is the 25th largest school district in the United States and the largest in Tennessee.[1]

Due to the city of Memphis dissolving its school charter in 2011, causing the end of Memphis City Schools (MCS), as of July 1, 2013 all Shelby County residents were served by SCS, including those in Memphis.[4] Following passage of a state law lifting the ban on establishment of new school districts, the six incorporated suburbs in the county each voted in July 2013 to establish six independent municipal school districts. As a result, as of the start of the 2014 school year, the six incorporated cities in Shelby County (other than Memphis) are each served by separate school districts.[5]

As of August 2014 there are six municipal school districts known as Collierville Schools, Germantown Municipal Schools, Bartlett City Schools, Arlington Community Schools, Lakeland School System, and Millington Municipal Schools. Shelby County Schools serves the city of Memphis, Tennessee and unincorporated areas of Shelby County.


The Shelby County School District was developed in the late 19th century, after public schools were established in the county. Until July 1, 2013, it served residents of Shelby County except for the city of Memphis (which established its own public school system in 1867).[6]

Over decades of development and change, the city of Memphis and Shelby County differed in their ability to support their school systems. By the 1990s, the state ranked as 45th in funding of public schools. The legislature passed the Education Improvement Act (EIA) in 1992 to improve funding of schools as well as election of board members and school management. Until 1996, Shelby County school board members had been appointed by the Shelby County Commission.

This arrangement was changed due to Tennessee's interpretation of its constitutional requirement that county officials, including school boards, be elected by all residents of the county, as well as elements of the state's Education Improvement Act of 1992, which addressed election of school boards. The Shelby County Commission established seven single-member districts to elect representatives to the school board; the districts represented the entire population of the county, although the city of Memphis at the time had its own school system and its residents were not served by the county system. The population of Memphis comprised more than 75% of the county's population in 1990, and would have dominated the school board with six of seven positions. (In 2013, Memphis has 70% of the county's population.)

Plaintiffs from the county, including the mayors of the six municipalities, objected under the Equal Protection Clause to having their system dominated by county residents who would not be served by the system. The US District Court, in a 1997 decision affirmed by the Appeals Court, ruled that the Constitution did not require all county residents to be included in a district that served only part of the county. As a result, the special election districts were redrawn to represent the area of Shelby County outside the city of Memphis, as this was the area served by the county school district.

On March 8, 2011, Memphis city residents voted to dissolve their school charter and disband Memphis City Schools, effectively merging the city with the Shelby County School District.[7] The city had the authority to do this under state law. The merger was to be implemented effective at the start of the 2013–14 school year.

Total enrollment in the county school system as of the 2010–2011 school year, was about 47,000 students,[8] making the district the fourth largest in Tennessee.[9] With the Memphis/Shelby County merger completed, the district received an addition of more than 100,000 students, making it the largest system in the state and one of the larger systems in the country.

In 2011 Sam Dillon of The New York Times concluded that although there was existing inequality between Shelby County Schools and Memphis City Schools, "nobody expects the demographics of schools to change much" as a result of the merger between the districts. He noted that "most students in both districts are assigned to neighborhood schools and housing tends to be segregated."[10] Some white families expressed concern that the merger would provoke white flight from Shelby County, which has lost white population in the last decade.[10]

Withdrawal by six suburbs[edit]

Following the merger, the state legislature passed a law that lifted the statewide ban on forming new school districts; this was effectively for Shelby County only, as it limited new special school districts to only counties with populations over 900,000. Shelby County is the only one to meet that criterion. The six incorporated municipalities had elections in which voters chose to establish their own independent school districts. These elections were overturned in 2012 as the state law was held to be unconstitutional by the state court, as being written for a particular group of people and not the whole state. In 2013, the Tennessee General Assembly lifted the ban statewide. In July 2013, the six incorporated suburbs in Shelby County overwhelmingly voted again in favor of their own municipal schools and withdrew from the county system.

Reimagining 901[edit]

On April 16, 2021, Dr. Joris Ray revealed the Reimagining 901 plan in his State of the District address. One part of the plan was a name change from Shelby County School District to "Memphis-Shelby County Schools" and the accompanying logo change.[11] The rebranding was made official after a board meeting on January 25, 2022, when the DBA (doing business as) was changed to Memphis-Shelby County Schools.[12] The plan includes building 5 new schools, close 15 schools, and add on to 13 schools, thus this plan should be completed in 2031.[13]

Governance and administration[edit]

Spanish sign of Berclair Elementary School

The county district is governed by a nine-member board of education. Board members represent nine special election districts in the Shelby County school district, which includes the city of Memphis but not the six suburban municipalities. These members are elected to four-year terms.

In 2015, the County district is led by its 24th superintendent, Dorsey Hopson, who replaced John Aitken (2009–2014). Aitken has been affiliated with the district since 1983, starting as a math teacher at Collierville Middle School. After nine years as a classroom teacher, he became assistant principal and later principal of Houston High School.[14] The current superintendent is Dr. Joris M. Ray who was elected on April 30, 2019.

Aitken's predecessor, Dr. Bobby G. Webb, was superintendent from January 2002 until 2009. Previously he had served for 14 years as superintendent of public schools in Lauderdale County.[15] He is the only superintendent to be recognized twice by the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents as Tennessee's Superintendent of the Year, having received that distinction in 1996 and 2001.[citation needed]


All of the "legacy" SCS schools in the school district are accredited. These particular schools meet the standards of the Tennessee State Department of Education and the accreditation standards of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). The legacy Shelby County School District was the first large district in Tennessee to be accredited in its entirety by SACS.[9]


MSCS contains 214 schools in Shelby County. Of these schools, 158 are directly operated by MSCS while the other 56 are charter schools.[1]

School uniforms[edit]

For the 2013–2014 school year, the district will preserve existing dress codes in its schools. Those schools requiring student uniforms will continue the uniform programs, while those schools without uniforms will continue that practice. The board said that, after one year, any school could petition to change its dress code policy, but such changes would have to be followed for a minimum of four years.[16]

Other facilities[edit]

The administration of Shelby County Schools is headquartered in Memphis. It is in the Francis E. Coe Administration Building,[17][18][19] the headquarters facility, was shared between the pre-merger Shelby County Schools and Memphis City Schools. The building has two wings, and one had been used by each pre-merger district. As of 2013 the corridor linking the wings had double-locked doors, and the glass panels had been covered by particle boards. Irving Hamer, the deputy superintendent of Memphis City Schools, described the barrier as "our Berlin Wall."[10] In 2018, SCS had 10 other buildings it used for office purposes in addition to the previous headquarters.[20]

In 2018, the district acquired a former Bayer office building, in the northeastern part of the city, for $6.6 million to be the new headquarters, with the former headquarters and ten other buildings consolidated into it.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "About SCS". Memphis-Shelby County Schools. Retrieved 2 May 2022.
  2. ^ a b "Search for Public School Districts – District Detail for Shelby County". National Center for Education Statistics. Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved 15 May 2022.
  3. ^ "2020 CENSUS - SCHOOL DISTRICT REFERENCE MAP: Shelby County, TN" (PDF). U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 2021-12-24.
  4. ^ Zubrzycki, Jaclyn (2013-07-09). "Memphis-Shelby Schools Merge, Amid Uncertainty". Education Week. Retrieved 2021-12-23.
  5. ^ "Coverage of the School Merger News for Memphis, TN", The Commercial Appeal Archived February 22, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "A Brief History of Shelby County". August 31, 2015.
  7. ^ McMillin, Zack (March 8, 2011). "Memphis voters OK school charter surrender". The Commercial Appeal. Archived from the original on February 22, 2014. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
  8. ^ Campbell Robertson, and total of 885 full time staff and employees "Memphis to Vote on Transferring School System to County" Archived June 7, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, New York Times, January 27, 2011
  9. ^ a b District Information Archived July 12, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, Shelby County Schools website, accessed January 27, 2011
  10. ^ a b c Dillon, Sam. "Merger of Memphis and County School Districts Revives Race and Class Challenges Archived June 15, 2013, at" The New York Times. November 5, 2011. Retrieved on June 3, 2013.
  11. ^ "'Re-Imagining 901′: Shelby County Schools superintendent delivers State of the District address". Retrieved 2021-04-17.
  12. ^ Brown, Jackson; Clemons, Brittni (January 25, 2022). "SCS votes to "Reimagine 901," rebrand district to Memphis-Shelby County Schools". Retrieved 2022-05-03.
  13. ^ Testino, Laura. "SCS proposes building 5 schools, closing about 15, adding on to 13. Here are details". The Commercial Appeal. Retrieved 2021-04-20.
  14. ^ John Aitken, Superintendent of Shelby County Schools, Shelby County Schools website, accessed January 27, 2011 Archived September 11, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ "Superintendent Webb to Retire from Shelby County Schools". WHBQ. February 26, 2009. Archived from the original on March 24, 2009. Retrieved February 26, 2009.
  16. ^ Chen, Natasha. "Shelby County Schools Keep Existing Uniform Policy." (Archive) WREG-TV. May 28, 2013. Retrieved on June 3, 2013.
  17. ^ "1b.jpg Archived September 22, 2013, at the Wayback Machine." Shelby County Schools. Retrieved on July 15, 2011. "160 S. Hollywood St. Memphis, TN 38112"
  18. ^ "Contact Us Archived June 14, 2013, at the Wayback Machine." Memphis City Schools. Retrieved on July 2, 2013. "Memphis City Schools 2597 Avery Avenue Memphis, TN 38112"
  19. ^ "Board of Commissioners Archived March 3, 2013, at the Wayback Machine." Memphis City Schools. Retrieved on July 2, 2013. "[...]the Francis E. Coe Administration Building, 2597 Avery Avenue."
  20. ^ a b Gertler, Jessica (2018-08-01). "Shelby County Schools buys North Memphis building for new headquarters". WREG. Retrieved 2021-12-23.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]