School & District Management

Memphis Superintendent Dorsey Hopson Leaving to Join Healthcare Company

By Denisa R. Superville — November 20, 2018 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

After nearly six years leading the school system in Memphis, Shelby County superintendent Dorsey Hopson announced on Tuesday that he was stepping down to join the health insurance company Cigna.

Rumors have been swirling that Hopson would leave the district, but some had anticipated that he would take a role in the administration of Governor-elect Bill Lee, whom Hopson supported in the recently-concluded gubernatorial contest.

Hopson’s name had been bandied about as a possible replacement for state Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, who announced last week that she is leaving in January to lead the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Hopson said he was leaving to take a newly-created national role in Cigna’s government and education business sector practice.

He described the last six years as a “remarkable journey” that moved the district through monumental changes, including a merger of Memphis City Schools with the Shelby County school system and then a “de-merger” when six suburban communities broke away from Shelby County Schools to form their own districts.

That splintering left the remaining Shelby County district in a financial bind, facing multi-million-dollar deficits, school closures, and state takeover of some of its schools.

During Hopson’s tenure, the system moved from deficits to surpluses, from closing schools to opening new ones, and from laying off school employees to paying employees a living wage, he said at the press conference. (The district adopted a policy this year to pay employees a minimum wage of $15 an hour.)

“I would love to see this work to the finish line,” Hopson said. “But I feel confident what we have laid a strong foundation for the next leader of Shelby County Schools.”

Hopson’s resignation is effective Jan. 8.

He said that while it’s hard to pinpoint one specific thing, his biggest accomplishment was putting the district on stronger financial footing.

“Student outcomes are not nearly where we want them to be,” Hopson said.

“I can walk away knowing that this district is in much better shape than it was when I started, but also knowing that we’ve got a long way to go,” he said.

The Memphis Commercial Appeal called Shelby County’s academic performance during Hopson’s tenure a “mixed bag.”

Under Hopson, schools in the Shelby County district turnaround program—called the Innovation Zone—outpaced schools in the state-run turnaround program, called the Achievement Zone.

But the person responsible for running Shelby County’s turnaround program, Sharon Griffin, left earlier this year to run the state turnaround system. (Griffin was honored as an Education Week Leader to Learn From in 2016.)

The district has tentative plans to name an interim successor before the winter break, Shante K. Avant, the school board president, said at the press conference.

Avant said that she was proud to work with Hopson in the five years she has been on the board. He worked closely with the board to carry out its vision for better fiscal management and develop an academic program that the district will carry into the future, she said.

While Hopson and his team didn’t always get everything right, Avant said, she appreciated the transparency in the way his team approached their work.

Hopson was a finalist for this year’s Urban Superintendent of the Year Award, an honor given by the Council of the Great City Schools, the national advocacy and support organization for the nation’s urban school systems.

With nearly six years in the top job, Hopson has outlasted many of his colleagues running urban school systems. The average tenure for a big-city superintendent is close to six years, according to a new analysis the Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation released this year. (That’s much longer than the popularly-held belief that the average urban schools chief sticks around for just a little more than three years.)

In his statement Tuesday, Hopson acknowledged that it was a tough job and that he had been thinking about leaving for a while. One of his children, now a sophomore in college, was in 8th grade when he took the job. He had missed many practices and games, he said. Two of his children attend schools in the district.

“It takes a lot of out of you personally,” he said. “It takes a lot out of your family.”

Photo caption: Dorsey Hopson resigned Tuesday as superintendent of the Shelby County school system in Memphis. Photo courtesy Shelby County Schools.

Related stories:

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management 10 Ways to Tackle Education's Urgent Challenges
As the school year gets underway, we ask hard questions about education’s biggest challenges and offer some solutions.
2 min read
Conceptual Image of schools preparing for the pandemic
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management Reported Essay Principals Need Social-Emotional Support, Too
By overlooking the well-being of their school leaders, districts could limit how much their schools can flourish.
7 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management From Our Research Center Educator Stress, Anti-Racism, and Pandemic Response: How You're Feeling
A new nationally representative survey offers key takeaways from teachers, principals, and district leaders.
EdWeek Research Center
1 min read
2021 BI COVER no text DATA crop
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management Download 8 Tips for Building a Digital Learning Plan That Conquers Chaos
Craft flexible strategies, encourage experimentation with new instructional models, and regularly solicit feedback.
1 min read
onsr edtech tips