They were moments of symbolism that will not be lost on anyone in Shelby County public education this day, this week or this year.
The laborious dismantling of two school systems, each with decades of past triumphs, tragedies and turmoil, gave way to a new and uncertain sign of joint purpose. Memphis and Shelby County Schools will become one on July . At least that's what the temporary sign change on Tuesday acknowledged.
"These are all our kids. It doesn't matter whether it's one school district, 10 school districts, charter schools," said interim Superintendent Dorsey Hopson. "Anybody who wants to get in here and help student achievement sign them up."
As if his days haven't been busy enough, Hopson managed to fit in a speaking engagement by appearing at a Rotary Club luncheon in Midtown. Warmly welcomed, Hopson gave the audience an overview of the work that's gone into preparing to operate one of the largest merged public school systems in the country when the doors open county-wide in August.
But, Hopson spared the Rotarians the painful "grinding the sausage" details he gave reporters at an earlier news conference where he laid out specifics on a final round of school employee job cuts.
Hopson said from the 2,000 interviews conducted over the last five weeks, central office staffing for the combined systems will result in the elimination of 300 positions at a savings of $18 million. Through what he asserted was a fair, fast and transparent process, the new staffing makeup will have a demographically familiar look, if those the system offered jobs end up taking them.
"At the beginning of the process, there were when you looked at SCS and the MCS Central offices, there's probably about 79 percent MCS employees, 21 percent Shelby County employees," said Hopson. "You're probably going to be looking at about a central office is made up of probably about 72 percent MCS, 28 percent SCS."
Readily in command of the numbers, Hopson broke down the expected final tally of 2,000 eliminated jobs: 750 custodial, 300 central office, 215 non-tenured teachers, 130 plant managers and 500 more including teacher's aides. Yet, he visibly softened when he related how the interview process took on a bitter irony.
"Many of the people who were assisting with the interviews were actually going through interviews themselves," Hopson said. "So, you could be an HR professional, assistant hiring manager with 20 interviews, and then you have to take a break and then you have to go run and interview for your job. All this is hard. It's hard work. It's going to have an effect on people. But, the reason we did this was to preserve as much money as we could to put in the classroom cause our core business is education.
"Many of the people who will be ending their employment with the Shelby County Schools are family members, our friends, people who we've known for a long time," the interim superintendent added. "Our hearts go out to them. We have not taken this process lightly."
Hopson said those who were let go will get up to six weeks of severance pay based on their length of service.
The system has been holding workshops to help those let go find other employment, possibly later within the system.
Meanwhile, there's at least a new sign that indicates the Unified School Board will be open for business, ready or not.