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School takeover meetings with teachers begin this week; union wants access

M-SCEA President Keith Williams voices opposition to school closures earlier this year during a board meeting.
M-SCEA President Keith Williams voices opposition to school closures earlier this year during a board meeting.
Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN

Memphis-Shelby County Education Association President Keith Williams wants access to informational meetings for teachers working at schools facing takeover by the Achievement School District in the 2015-16 school year.

“We want the time, place and date of those meetings, so we can attend,” Williams said Tuesday, adding that he sent a formal request to Brad Leon, chief of strategy and innovation for Shelby County Schools.

As of Wednesday morning, the association had not received a response. Nor had the district responded to Chalkbeat’s request for information.

Williams said he has several unanswered questions for the district and the ASD, including how many of the schools slated for takeover will be directly run by the ASD or a charter school.

“We need to be at all of the meetings to know what information the teachers are receiving,” Williams said.

Many Shelby County teachers at schools slated for takeover received official letters from the district on Monday explaining that their school was eligible for takeover and eligible for the school matching process. Schools facing takeover have been chronically low-performing for the past three years.

The letter encourages teachers to be a part of the matching process, which involves parents, teachers and members of the community meeting with the charter operators and discussing plans for the takeover school. Feedback from those meetings is used by the Achievement Advisory Council’s matching recommendations to the ASD.

“All of this helps the ASD make the best decision for kids,” Elliot Smalley, ASD chief of staff said Wednesday. Smalley said the ASD is part of the faculty meetings at the targeted schools, but the decision about who is invited to those meetings is up to Shelby County Schools.

“Your feedback and participation will help shape recommendations for the ASD. ASD schools are run by public charter school operators, so this matching process gives you a chance to meet the operators and provide input on which one(s) are the best fit if your school is chosen for the ASD,” the letter says.

The letter also says teachers are, “100 percent fundamental in this process. There is a lot of good work to do the rest of the year, and we will be working collectively with you to ensure that you and your students are supported.”

The letter was signed by Leon and Angela Whitelaw, assistant superintendent of schools.

One affected teacher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern for her job, said teachers at her school were surprised to learn they were under consideration for takeover since the school is a considered a Level 5 (the highest ranking) school, based on student growth.

“A lot of teachers are uncertain about what they’re going to do next year,” she said. “We were like ‘why us?'”

Williams said starting the takeover conversation nine weeks into the new school year is damaging for teacher morale.

“They never announced the school takeover list this early,” Williams said. “The first report cards haven’t even gone out yet. Now instead of focusing on instruction, teachers at the takeover schools will be thinking about looking for a job, and the academic scores could suffer.”

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at tcheshier@chalkbeat.org and (901) 730-4013.

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