Memphis City Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson took a major step forward Monday in pursuing the more influential role that she envisions the district playing in the redevelopment of Memphis neighborhoods and as a leader for smart growth.

To a standing ovation from school board members, she announced that she hired Louise Mercuro, now deputy director of Memphis and Shelby County Division of Planning and Development, to become a key member of her staff. It portends good things for the district, because Ms. Mercuro has been the driving force behind OPD’s involvement in some projects like the Broad Avenue Corridor Planning Initiative, the Unified Development Code and the new controls over sexually-oriented businesses.

Based on the response from Dr. Johnson’s enthusiastic comments and the board’s equally enthusiastic response, there seems to be a clear understanding of the disadvantage that the district has had in all kinds of issues because of a lack of current data and professional planning. The issues range all the way from attendance zones for individual schools to negotiations with the Shelby County School District over new schools to deliberations of the Schools Needs Assessment Committee.

In her Five-Year Facilities Master Plan, the superintendent laid out “new directions” for the district, including joint use of schools with neighborhood organizations, adaptive reuse of former schools and development of surplus land owned by the district.

With this hire, it’s obvious that these directions weren’t just filler for the master plan, but serious objectives for Memphis City Schools. With city neighborhoods needing all the help they can get, the more active involvement of the district is good news and important progress.