Memphis is known as the Home of the Blues and Birthplace of Rock-and-Roll. It’s a city people sing about—more than 1,000 commercial recordings of more than 800 songs mention "Memphis." Landmarks like Graceland mark it as the home of Elvis Presley and the National Civil Rights Museum marks the spot where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968—a moment frozen in time in the communal memory of the city.
Nearly 50 years after Dr. King gave his life here in the fight for equality, only 4 percent of kids graduate high school ready for college. Only 26 percent of residents in the Memphis Metropolitan Area hold a bachelor’s degree. Today, though inequities persist, we see countless signs of progress. Our local public school district, Shelby County Schools (SCS), has been nationally recognized for its progressive approach to improving educational outcomes for all students with the creation of its Innovation Zone schools. In 2010, Tennessee established The Achievement School District (ASD). Designed to move the bottom 5% of schools in Tennessee to the top 25%, the ASD was recently cited as a national model for turnaround.
The collective sense of urgency in our community is visible at every level. Strategic philanthropic efforts led by our local Hyde Family and other community foundations have helped lay the groundwork for transforming Memphis into “Teacher Town, USA.” From SCS’ partnership with The New Teacher Project and tremendous support from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to the wide variety of innovative school models that comprise our educational ecosystem, Memphis is creating multiple pathways for all children to succeed.
We’re proud of the role our people have played in partnership with educators and advocates of all backgrounds since Teach For America joined the Memphis community in 2006. Ten years later, our incoming corps members are increasingly more diverse, with half of our incoming 2016 teachers coming from a low-income background and over half identifying as a person of color. The Tennessee Higher Education Commission's (THEC) report card found that TFA Memphis is among the state's top teacher preparation programs, and the only one to earn that distinction for six years in a row. Our alumni continue to effect change at levels, with about 250 who continue to teach in Memphis, over 20 who serve as principals, and even more who serve as assistant principals or deans. Our people go above and beyond to unlock the potential of historically marginalized students, empowering them for success well into the future.
As we consider the educational landscape in Memphis today, we are convinced that this city must be the place that fulfills Dr. King’s dreams of a day when we are “an oasis of freedom and justice;” a place that refuses to question whether some kids can achieve and others can’t, but instead demands that all do at the highest of levels