Future of Schools

ASD, priority schools in Memphis, Nashville land federal school improvement grants

Shelby County Schools and the state’s Achievement School District will receive federal School Improvement Grants to help support low preforming schools on the state’s priority list, the Tennessee Department of Education announced Monday.

The ASD will receive $1.3 million while Shelby County’s check will total $900,000.

Both districts have schools on the state’s priority list, meaning they’re among the 5 percent lowest performers in the state.

Shelby County Schools has 50 priority schools compared to the nine priority schools under the ASD.  Districts that applied for grants were awarded based on need.

“We looked at the strength of the application and track record of success,” said Ashley Ball, deputy director of communications for Tennessee Department of Education.

Shelby County Schools communications department told Chalkbeat Monday afternoon a specific spending plan had not been developed for the grant money.

In October Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the district expected to receive a federal grant largely due to improvement efforts of iZone or Innovation Zone. The iZone is the district’s home-grown school turnaround effort , under whichschool leaders have the autonomy to hire teachers, create a longer school day, and make curriculum changes.

The ASD said its grant was earned by several of  public charter operators, which will open schools in 2015-16 academic year.  The schools have different plans for spending the money.

The federal grant money can be used, beginning in the 2015-16 school year, to help districts with community outreach, teacher and administrator recruitment and exploring additional resources.

“We believe this additional financial investment will help districts provide our Priority Schools with specific supports,” said education commissioner Kevin Huffman in Monday’s press release. “For the past several years, our state has been focused both on improving overall performance of all kids in Tennessee, while closing achievement gaps and supporting students that are the farthest behind; we have seen results from these efforts and are excited to help districts plan for additional interventions.”

Also receiving the grants were Metro Nashville Public Schools,$1.3 million; Knox County Schools $1 million; and Jackson-Madison County Schools, $400,000.

Metro Nashville has 15 schools on the state’s priority list, Knox County has four schools on the list and Jackson-Madison County has two schools included on the list.

March for Our Lives

Memphis students say Saturday protest is not just about school shootings. It’s about all gun violence.

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post
A student at Columbine High School holds a sign during a protest of gun violence, on March 14, 2018 in Littleton, Colorado.

Students marching Saturday in Memphis against gun violence say they are not only protesting the shootings that killed 17 people last month at a Florida high school. They also are speaking out against shootings that happen daily in their own city.

Seventeen-year-old John Chatman says he fears school shootings, but he especially fears the common gun violence in his neighborhood of South Memphis. He has lost close friends to shootings.

“It can happen anywhere, anytime,” Chatman said. “I think [this march] is a great stand. We should protest against school shootings. But we have to talk about what kids like me are seeing in Memphis on the daily.”

Memphis had 200 homicides in 2017, down from 228 the previous year, the deadliest year recorded in the city in two decades.

Chatman is one of hundreds of Memphians expected to participate in this weekend’s March for Our Lives event as part of a nationwide protest sparked by the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The largest march will be in Washington, D.C., where up to a half million protesters are expected, but smaller demonstrations are planned in cities and towns across the nation. In Tennessee, other marches are slated for Jackson, Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Clarksville, Cookeville, and Johnson City.

The Memphis march will start at 10 a.m. at Claiborne Temple, and Savanah Thompson will be there. One of more than a dozen student organizers, she worries that news about people getting shot has become commonplace.

“Being in Memphis, you get used to hearing about gun violence,” said Thompson, a freshman at White Station High School. “This affects the youth in our city. … We never want a school shooting to happen in Memphis or anywhere ever again.”

Alyssa Kieren, a student leader at Collierville High School, hopes the march fosters a sense of unity.

“We’re trying to stress that this isn’t a partisan issue,” Kieren said. “We have to acknowledge there is a problem and we have to come up with solutions. … The thing we’re upset about is that children are dying in our schools, and they’re dying in our city.”


Memphis candidate no longer in running to lead Achievement School District

The only Memphis applicant to lead Tennessee’s school turnaround district is no longer under consideration.

Keith Sanders told Chalkbeat Thursday that Education Commissioner Candice McQueen called him with the news that he would not advance in the application process to become superintendent of the Achievement School District. Sanders is a Memphis-based education consultant and former Memphis school principal who most recently was chief officer of school turnaround at the Delaware Department of Education.

The state later confirmed that Sanders will not advance, citing concerns from the search firm hired to find the next leader of the turnaround district.

In a March 21 letter to McQueen, the search firm highlighted Sanders’ time as a charter school leader in New Orleans as a reason he should not advance. Sanders co-founded Miller-McCoy Academy, an all-boys public school that closed in 2014. The school was academically low-performing, and Sanders and his co-founder left the school before it shuttered amidst allegations of financial mismanagement and cheating, according to the letter.

“Given the visibility of the ASD role, I think there are too many questions about his time at Miller-McCoy for him to be credible,” wrote Mollie Mitchell, president of The K-12 Search Group, in the letter.

The announcement comes a day after Stephen Osborn, a finalist for the position, visited Memphis for a second time to meet with local stakeholders. Osborn is currently the chief of innovation for Rhode Island’s Department of Education.

Sanders said he was shocked to be eliminated, as just weeks earlier he was told that he would advance as one of two finalists.

“I was given an itinerary for two days next week for my final interview process,” Sanders said. “I’m shocked that I’ve been suddenly and abruptly removed from this process. I want to be clear in this community I reside in — I did not withdraw.”

In addition to Sanders and Osborn, other candidates under consideration are Brett Barley, deputy superintendent for student achievement with the Nevada Department of Education, and Adam Miller, executive director of the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice at the Florida Department of Education.

McQueen emphasized during her Memphis visit on Wednesday that the superintendent search is still in progress.

“We certainly have an expectation that we’ll bring in others,” she told reporters. “At this point, we wanted to move one forward while we’re continuing to solicit additional information from the search firm on current candidates as well as other candidates who have presented themselves over last couple of weeks.”

The new superintendent will succeed Malika Anderson, who stepped down last fall after almost two years at the helm. Kathleen Airhart, a longtime deputy at the State Department of Education, has served as interim leader.

The job will require overseeing 30 low-performing schools, the majority of which are run by charter organizations in Memphis.

Editor’s note: We have updated this story with comment from the Tennessee Department of Education.