Sarah Carpenter

Sarah Carpenter is a native Memphian and proud resident of the North Memphis community. She serves as executive director of The Memphis Lift, an organization with the mission to make the powerless parent powerful.

Let’s help a whole city of kids

By Updated: February 06, 2019 5:03 PM CT | Published: February 05, 2019 9:23 AM CT

As the mother of four and the grandmother of 13, ensuring all kids in Memphis receive a quality education is personal.

One day, two of my granddaughters were working on homework at my kitchen table. One went to a school in the suburbs, the other to an inner-city school around the corner from where I live. They were in the same grade, but you would never have known it. My granddaughter who went to school in the suburbs couldn’t understand why her cousin was just now studying material she already mastered months and even years ago.

That’s when I realized – every school in my neighborhood was failing our children. Our students were trapped. They couldn’t read or do math on grade level, but were passed from elementary to middle to high school.

I got involved because I believe every child – no matter their skin color or what part of town they live in – deserves to go to a great school.

In 2016, a small group of parents and grandparents like me WOKE UP. We realized our children were being underserved, so we started The Memphis Lift to make the “powerless parent powerful” and educate other parents about the state of our schools.

Since then, we’ve knocked on thousands of doors and helped hundreds of parents learn how to demand great schools for their children. It’s powerful to see what happens when parents link up. But the more we do, the more I see the need for systemic change.

In Memphis, we have lots of school options – including traditional schools, public charter schools, optional schools and iZone schools – but the current enrollment system is stacked against parents like me. There are a couple of reasons.

First, there are just not enough good schools. For years, parents camped out for hours in the cold just to fill out an application to send their child to an optional school. Today, we may not have “tent city” but parents are still left out in the cold, if they don’t get lucky.

Second, each different type of school has its own enrollment system and deadlines, presenting a real challenge to parents who are doing all they can just to put food on the table.

People talk about school choice. But school choice doesn’t truly exist if parents don’t have access to good schools.

There is a solution that can help: unified enrollment.

Unified enrollment would create a single enrollment application and deadline for EVERY public school serving the city of Memphis. With this system, parents would go to a single website to find information on all public schools available to their children and enroll their kids.

A unified enrollment system does more than benefit parents –  it will benefit the entire city.

By giving parents access to the facts, and giving them true choice of where their kids go to school, schools will be motivated to improve to keep and attract more students. Schools would have a better sense of enrollment and budget numbers, and districts would have a better idea of what parents truly want and what is working.

Today, four of my 13 grandkids are grown. Information, choice and access changed everything for my family. I get to celebrate that two of my grandchildren have already graduated college.

A quality education should not be for just the lucky ones. I am fighting for unified enrollment so more parents can stand where I do today.

<strong>Sarah Carpenter</strong>

Sarah Carpenter


Memphis Lift Unified enrollment

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