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

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick
Principals value data from observations of teachers more than their students' value-added scores, according to a new study.

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.



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.