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    Guest column: Gary Shorb

    By Gary Shorb Special to Viewpoint - The Commercial Appeal -

    We have a chance to be great.

    We face a rare, once-in-a-generation moment to shape the course of our community's future.It comes in an area which we all agree is the most important challenge in Memphis and Shelby County: public education.

    For years, we've said that high-quality public education is the number one priority for our community. We knew that if we could reform and improve our public schools, it would be the single most important thing we could do to send our community to a positive, prosperous future.

    There is no question that the results would be transformative. They would create vastly better options in the lives of students as they enter the workforce, create a family and contribute to their community. It would be our most compelling talent development strategy and it would propel our economic growth.

    That's why we have to approach this long-awaited opportunity as the historic decision that it is. We have the ability to transform our educational landscape to provide all of our children with new and better academic and economic opportunities through a nationally significant unified school system.

    The importance of this moment in time was reflected in a quarterly meeting I chaired just days ago with a coalition of 30 or so community leaders from business, higher education, secondary education, early childhood development, philanthropy, faith, nonprofit and government sectors who work together to advance a bold agenda for human capital development along the cradle-to-career pipeline.

    Called the PeopleFirst Partnership, this group assembled most recently to consider endorsing the recommendations of the Transition Planning Commission, which was created by state law to develop a plan for a unified school system.

    Our endorsement is unanimous and enthusiastic.

    First of all, we heartily commend the TPC for a thoughtful and first-rate planning process. Beginning with the dedication and civility of its members and the responsive and intelligent participation of leaders from both school systems, and including the fidelity to 10 impressive guiding principles, the extensive community engagement and research on best practices, and the judicious identification of opportunities to redeploy resources where they can have the greatest impact on student success, this process was a model in mature leadership, not for just our community, but for any community grappling with an equally crucial public issue.

    More important, the recommendations themselves represent a courageous blueprint for a world-class unified school system for Shelby County. The TPC's focus on expanding pre-K opportunities, improving and supporting effective teaching, growing the Gates Foundation's Teacher Effectiveness Initiative, designing targeted student interventions, adopting higher common core standards and developing job-embedded professional development, are critical pieces to moving toward a school system based on research and best practices and known for its excellence.

    The entire TPC plan can be read at ourvoiceourschools.org.

    Both Memphis and Shelby County mayors are members of the leadership team of PeopleFirst and shared their enthusiasm for the TPC recommendations.

    County Mayor Mark Luttrell, who also served on the TPC as an ex-officio member, said: "The TPC put forth a process that was innovative and inclusive of all Shelby County but more importantly, produced a plan that puts academic success above all.  As a TPC member, I believe that the educational priorities and reform agenda will have an impact on student achievement.  As funding poses the greatest threat to the adoption of the plan, I encourage the school board to make the decisions necessary to achieve the first-class system while not unduly burdening our citizens with a large tax increase.  It is indeed a system that has the potential to change the future for our students.  Leadership at all levels is now required if we have hopes of implementing the vision and guidance provided by the TPC."

    Memphis Mayor A C Wharton stated: "A city cannot be great without a great public school system. The TPC's plan is a roadmap to building a great school system in this new unified school district.

    With this plan, and the full investment of our citizens, we can show the world that Memphis and Shelby County can lead our nation in achieving education excellence. I have consistently made a distinction between education and schooling and I am glad to see a path in this plan for the city to support the important education work needed to make Memphis and Shelby County great."

    The mayors are right, and it is time now for organizations and individuals to stand up, act, advocate and serve as guardians of this pathway to a great school system. It is up to all of us as concerned citizens to get engaged, review the plan and find specific ways to ensure that this blueprint can become a reality for our children.

    We have prayed for this opportunity for decades. We cannot let it pass. The TPC has done its inspired work and shown us the way. Now let us join hands to take charge of our own destiny and to realize our dreams for Shelby County public education that sets the standard for the nation.