With lawsuit settlement, Shelby County School officials shift focus toward academic improvements

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick/Chalkbeat

With the municipality split and a subsequent lawsuit mostly settled, members of the Shelby County School Board and Superintendent Dorsey Hopson are shifting their attention toward improving student achievement by building a strategic plan,  placing technology into students’ hands in preparation for computerized testing and emphasizing student literacy in the classroom.

For the last year, the district has been enmeshed in a legal battle with six municipalities that wanted to form their own districts after legacy Shelby and Memphis City Schools merged last year. The board members have spent the majority of several meetings debating how to amicably split with the districts. Board members now say they want to shift their focus toward improving academic achievement for its students.  A large portion of Shelby County’s schools rank among the lowest-performing in the state.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the superintendent said he will spend the next few months building a strategic plan for the district.

Hopson said the district is looking to set a long-term target that would prepare the class of 2025 to be college or career ready.  Those students are now kindergartners in the district.

“We’re going to engage in an aggressive community engagement process,” Hopson told the board.  “We’re serious about improving student achievement and we want to hear from the board, community, principals, teachers – all of the stakeholders.  It’s a lot, but we have to make sure our direction is clear.”

Hopson said the process begins with evaluating what has and hasn’t worked for the schools and determining next steps.

Following Tuesday’s meeting, school board member Chris Caldwell and board chair Kevin Woods said they plan to advocate for improving student literacy.

At least 61 percent or 7,134 of Shelby County students in the third grade were not proficient in reading last year, according to a recent presentation to the board.  If academic interventions aren’t in place, researchers believe students will continue to struggle and are more likely to drop out of high school.

“Student literacy by the third grade is very important,” Caldwell said  “We also have to have parent engagement and support at home.”

Woods said the administration should make sure all students are ready for kindergarten by putting in place early academic interventions.

“Our focus is definitely on making sure all of our students are reading at grade level by the third grade,” Woods said.

 To address the needs of low-income students and their families, Shelby County School administrators proposed a  pilot “blended-learning” initiative that would give students computers they will eventually be able to take home. 

The district’s executive principal of virtual school, Cleon Franklin, said Tuesday night the blended learning proposal will help students for prepare for computerized testing including the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment in 2014-15 school year. PARCC is administered on computers and tests Common Core math and reading standards recently adopted by Tennessee and other states.

Sixteen schools will be chosen for the pilot program.  The application for principals to apply is Friday, Franklin said.



What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.