A School to Believe In

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Studies are often cited claiming that Memphis is number one in all sorts of unflattering categories. It is true that we have serious and entrenched problems with race, crime, health, and education. Every day the vast majority of Memphis and Shelby County public school children, over 90% of whom are children of color, are being severely underserved by our schools which sit squarely in the middle of the richest and most powerful country in the world.

However, it would be disingenuous for me not to mention that I firmly believe that Memphis is the greatest city in the world. It is the birthplace of so much of the talent, thought, and culture that has made our country so rich and powerful. The bravest, toughest, and most dedicated people that I have ever met have been born or chosen to live in our city on the bluff. If Memphis is flush with anything, it is people with the capacity for greatness. I would happily bet that we could find more unrealized talent on any single Memphis block than in most neighborhoods.

Coming home, I have seen so many thoughtful organizations and brilliant people trying to harness this potential, but when it comes to education, the brutal facts are still glaringly clear. The results of our schools are abysmal. During the 2015-16 school year in Algebra and Geometry, more than 90% of students did not pass the end of course assessment. Greater than 80% of students failed their end of course assessment in English. Our average ACT score for Shelby County schools is 17.5, and those are only the students who are interested go to college. Our charter schools on the whole out-perform those public schools. However, Shelby County charter school students still perform far more similarly to their traditional public school peers than to students in Franklin County’s Special School District where 100% of students, every single child, passed the TCAP in Geometry.

I am a proud Memphis City Schools graduate, who was afforded an education that has allowed me to attend my dream college and go on to hold my dream job. However, as those results show, I am a dramatic exception. I was lucky. I was born into a zip code that qualified me for one of Memphis’s far too few “good public schools” and with a skin color that made all of my achievements that much easier. It is not and will not ever be acceptable that every day people are denied a fair shot at life because the random lottery of birth.

When we say that Believe Memphis Academy is a “No Excuses” school that means that we will make no excuse that our students cannot achieve at the same level or better than any students in the country, and we will do whatever takes to make that a reality. Ms. Althea Greene, my mentor and former MCS social studies teacher, recently explained to me, “One of the biggest problems in Memphis is that people don’t believe in the vision that all of our students can succeed.” At BMA, we believe. We believe every kid can learn, every kid can pass these tests, and every kid can get into and graduate from college. 

There is no special trick or gimmick, no after school activity or mystical methodology, that miraculously motivates, prods, cajoles, and guides students to academic success. It requires the hiring, training, and retaining of great teachers and staff members. It necessitates support for every student that walks through our door that matches their gifts and needs. It compels us to foster a culture where our students will develop the leadership skills that will be necessary for them to achieve their goals and advocate for themselves and others. With great teaching, support for all children, and leadership development, we have the most amazing opportunity in the world: to prove what is possible for every single student in Memphis and to build the school that our children deserve. Believe, Memphis!

Danny Song