In August 2013, the Thurgood Marshall Academy will open as a Memphis Public Charter School and a helping hand for youth in the custody or care of Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court. It will have a very familiar local imprint.
"My hands – my personal and professional hands – will be all over the program in terms of day-to-day monitoring and supervision," said Dr. Willie W. Herenton, former Memphis City Schools (MCS) superintendent and Memphis' longest-serving mayor.
The official word about the new academy was delivered Wednesday (Sept. 12) during a news conference at the MCS Teaching and Learning Academy on Union at Avery. With Herenton stood MCS Supt. Dr. Kriner Cash and Memphis and Shelby County Juvenile Court Judge, Curtis S. Person Jr.
"This is a promising venture," said Cash. "We've been collaborating over several months. We want to reverse the trend to get kids on a positive and post-secondary track."
"All of the partners are here and we are going to turn this troubling pattern around. This is a nationwide problem, not just a community issue. We all need to do our part to correct it."
With fourteen charter schools approved, Thurgood Marshall Academy will be the first to open based on the W.E. B. DuBois consortium model. The focus will be on students (grades six through twelve) who are expelled from school for minor infractions and get supervised or unsupervised probation. It will come replete with holistic services from academics to counseling to mental health services to parental support. MCS will provide the resources; Herenton and his team will provide the vision, curriculum, cultural relevance and leadership.
"This is big," said Cash, envisioning success and a national model. "It will be watched all over the country."
"Cash and I are urban educators," said Herenton. "Some look at us as politicians, but my passion has always been education. I never left school out of my plans. Now, late in life, God has allowed me to engage in educating and addressing those deficiencies and needs of the human population here in Memphis."
For context, Herenton turned to a Biblical quote: "For as much as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me." He followed up with a declaration to move on every major stakeholder in the Memphis community.
"We plan to write letters to key community leaders, clergy, corporate, higher-ed administrators, medical etc. It will be a comprehensive collaborative and every major stakeholder will play a role."
Since Feb. 2010, Juvenile Court has been the home of Hope Academy, under the leadership of veteran educator, Michael J. Smith. Judge Person lauded the program, the new collaborative and the resolve of Herenton and Cash to fulfill a big need.
"Since the program and partnership with Memphis City Schools began, almost 2,000 kids have been helped and we've seen a 51 percent drop in offenses. This keeps kids out of the Juvenile Court system," said Person.
"My predecessor, Judge Kenneth Turner, wanted a school in Juvenile Court and it didn't happen. But I invited Dr. Cash and Chief Darling for lunch and told them about the need for a school (at Juvenile Court). They embraced it and made it happen."
Cash, Herenton and Person each shared personal stories of how young people such as those who will be served by the academy simply need a little intervention.
"They are not criminals, but because they had a bad weekend, they come to school angry and get into trouble and are sent to Juvenile Court," said Cash.
With a memorandum of understanding yet to be approved and programmatic details still emerging, one thing is for certain, said Cash. "They will have tough love, cultural diversity, but they will have to meet state academic standards."
Northside High School appears to be the chosen location for the first Thurgood Marshall Academy.
"There are 236 students now on supervised probation. Northside is under populated. It has moved out of high priority status. They have a strong community base and they have a health center. We can build around that for Thurgood Marshall," according to Cash.
"He doesn't know it yet, but there are multiple schools in the plan for Dr. Herenton," said Cash. "We want region-based satellites of this type of school."
The announcement of the academy came during the all-day Educational Community Forum hosted by Memphis City Schools, Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, and the Shelby County Disproportionate Minority Taskforce. Shelby County Unified School Board Chairman Billy Orgel gave celebratory remarks and numerous other political and community leaders also attended.