School choices to consider

By Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell and Kamilah Whitley

While only halfway through this school year, already as parents we need to be thinking about the next school year. Those with pre-kindergarteners or kindergarteners need to be considering testing their children to see if they qualify for Head Start or gifted programs. Those of us with older children may be taking the leap to middle or high school or making the move to a new school. As always, the next school year will be here before we know it. To that end I have invited Kamilah Whitley, a respected educator, CLUE teacher at Craigmont Middle School, and a National Board Teacher candidate, to voice her thoughts on school choice. Here is what she had to say.

Ring….Ring…. “Hello? Yes Shelia, Harvard is still a pretty good university. Of course I will let you know when it falls into decline like the rest of the US school system. Yes, I know Lawrence is just a year old, and you want to him to attend only the very best schools. What’s that? Of course I’m available tomorrow to talk about the world’s best wedding locations for Lawrence!”

Okay. I confess. Conversations with my friend really do not go like this. However, my exaggeration more closely resembles what my friend and many other parents in Memphis feel in their hearts. They want the very best for their children, especially in regards to education. Recent local and national headlines warn parents of the consequences of not sending their children to the “right” schools, much as headlines in the past warned parents of the dangers in vaccinating their children to prevent smallpox. It is easy to see how even the most informed parent can be skeptical when choosing a school for their child, whether it’s a charter, private, parochial, or public school. That noted, here are a few extra options you may not be aware of in our local public schools.

The Optional School Program offered by Memphis City Schools (MCS) allows parents to choose a school that best fits their child’s needs. The Optional School Programs vary from school to school, with a plethora of possibilities such as Performing and Language Arts, Social Studies, Science and Mathematics, and beyond. MCS currently has 43 different Optional Schools at all levels. Students must apply to be accepted into the program and meet entry requirements that are based on specific attendance, behavior, and academic standards. These vary depending on the school and the rigor of the program.

Children who begin to read at an early age, have excellent memory, and/or relate well to adults could be gifted. If this is the case, parents may be interested in the MCS CLUE (Creative Learning in a Unique Environment) program. CLUE is available to pre-kindergarten through high school students. To gain entry students must successfully complete an individual assessment administered by a designated MCS employee or a qualified psychologist. Students who enter the CLUE program are challenged to think critically, display creative thinking, strengthen their communication skills, and develop leadership abilities. Further, students engage in problem solving activities and introspective exercises. The program is unique in that it is tailored to the individual needs of students who exemplify both academic and creative strengths.

So, if you are looking for an exemplary educational experience designed to challenge and nurture the special needs of your child, consider Memphis City Schools. As a bonus, unlike the world’s best wedding locations, these schools are free!

Kamilah Whitley is a highly accomplished CLUE teacher and National Board candidate. Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell is a National Board Certified Teacher with over 25 years educational experience. If you have any questions or comments, please contact Dr. Maxwell at


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