Tennessee

If a school is broken but appears to be on the mend, should the state intervene?

PHOTO: Micaela Watts
Parents and students at Sheffield Elementary School protest the state's proposal to take control of the Memphis school and convert it to a charter school managed by Aspire Public Schools.

Parents and students chanting “Leave us alone!” congregated Thursday outside of Sheffield Elementary School to send a message to the Tennessee Achievement School District that their struggling Memphis school is making enough strides to avoid state intervention.

One of five Memphis schools targeted for state takeover and charter conversion next year under an ASD proposal, Sheffield is among the lowest-performing schools in both Shelby County Schools and the state. But under new leadership in the last two years, the school is beginning to turn that trajectory.

“Why would you want to take over a school that is improving?” asked Barbara Riddle, whose two grandchildren attend Sheffield.

Riddle was among about 60 parents and students gathered outside the school’s main entrance after the school day to show their support of the school’s current leadership and their confidence in the administration’s turnaround strategy.

“I’m here to save our school,” said Riddle, applauding the work of principal Patricia Griggs-Merriweather. “She’s laid the foundation. Why not give her the opportunity to build on it? I mean, Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

State Rep. Raumesh Akbari, whose district includes the school, questioned whether the payoff from state intervention would be worth the disruption of wresting control of Sheffield from Shelby County Schools and turning it over to Aspire Public Schools, the charter network that has applied to manage the school.

“I don’t want those students to go through the trauma of a takeover where the principal is gone, all the teachers have been fired, and a whole new mentality comes in,” said Akbari (D-Memphis). “… Our principal is getting it right. Don’t interrupt the progress that we’re making.”

Since 2012, Sheffield has been on Tennessee’s list of priority schools that fall in the state’s bottom 5 percent. On standardized tests last school year, 38 percent of its students met the state’s proficiency bar in math and 14 percent in reading — lagging behind the district and significantly behind state averages.

But the state’s own measures of growth suggest that the school is making significant strides — almost enough to keep it from state intervention under a new Tennessee law sponsored by Akbari and removing a priority school from ASD eligibility with a TVAAS growth score of 4 or 5. Sheffield’s reading scores grew slightly and its math scores increased by more than expected, based on student demographics and past performance, earning a TVAAS score of 3.

“The criteria for ASD eligibility are clear, and since the recent passing of the TVAAS law championed by Rep. Akbari, it is now clearer than ever,” said a statement released Thursday evening by the ASD.

ASD leaders said they welcome parent input and encouraged them to be part of the district’s community engagement process through a neighborhood advisory council currently reviewing Aspire’s application to convert Sheffield to a charter.

The council, they said, “is asking tough, thoughtful questions of Aspire Public Schools regarding their Application for School Transformation and vision for what a partnership with Sheffield Elementary could look like. We have also surveyed dozens of Sheffield parents. We feel confident that we will be able to make a thoughtful decision about potential conversion of Sheffield, inclusive of neighborhood voices, in early December.”

Sheffield stakeholders line the street in front of their school during Thursday's protest.
PHOTO: Micaela Watts
Sheffield stakeholders line the street in front of their school during Thursday’s protest.

The Sheffield protest was organized by the school’s parent-teacher organization but purposefully mobilized parents — not the educators who likely would lose their jobs in a charter conversion — in an effort to demonstrate grassroots parental support of the school’s efforts.

Sheffield’s protest was the second in as many weeks at ASD-targeted schools. Last week, dozens of community members gathered outside of Raleigh Egypt Middle School to call attention to the gains underway there.

The ASD, created under state law in 2010 to turn around chronically underperforming schools, currently oversees 27 Memphis schools. While its schools’ test scores are far from reaching the district’s ambitious goals, the ASD has been lauded by state and local leaders for creating a sense of urgency to improve schools whose scores have languished for decades.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.