Shelby County Schools Supt. Hopson sets ambitious academic goals, asks for board members’ support

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN
Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II reviews the district's long-range goals during Thursday's school board retreat.

Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson II and its board members discussed budget cuts, academic goals, its world language program and school start times  during an all-day retreat Thursday.

It was the first retreat since Hopson proposed cutting almost 19 percent, or $227 million, from its budget reflecting anticipated enrollment drops as students transfer to new school districts in the suburbs of Memphis and charter schools and as more schools are run by the state-run Achievement School District. The new budget requires staff and program cuts. Board members failed to vote on the budget earlier this week after parents protested several of the cuts.

Hopson used the retreat Thursday to allow administrators to discuss some of the cuts with board members and to preview some of his long-term academic goals for the district.

Hopson told board members Thursday he wants to have 80 percent of seniors graduate college and career ready, increase the graduation rate to 90 percent and 100 percent of college and career ready graduates enrolled in a postsecondary opportunity by 2025. He named the project  “Goal 2025 80/90/100.”

Currently, SCS’s graduation rate is 70 percent, but only 5.8 percent of those graduates are considered college and career ready, according to national standards. Sixty percent of the SCS students are enrolled in postsecondary education.

Over the next several months, Hopson and his team will work on defining college and career readiness, setting goals and seeking public approval.  All aspects of the initiative would be part of the district’s strategic plan, which would be presented to the board by Dec. 1.

Hopson said he plans to have a presentation about the district’s mission and goal during the April retreat and ask for the board’s public support.

Board members said the district’s current statistics were hard to hear on Thursday.

“Meeting the goals will be hard work, but we’ve got to raise the bar,” said Billy Orgel, SCS board member.  “Right now, we’re below the bar and  we need to improve.”

Members of Hopson’s leadership cabinet gave presentations on  world languages and bell times.  Both issues stemmed from public outcry during last week’s community budget forums. 

In the current 2014-15 budget proposal, SCS is considering reducing the number of world language classes at the elementary and middle school levels.  Alyssa Villarreal, world language advisor, said there are 56 teachers. The district’s proposal requires reducing that by 21 to save more than $1.8 million.

“My concern is that if those programs are cut now, there will be greater inequity for students to access foreign language,” said Villarreal following her presentation.

Hopson’s concern is that in some schools that offer foreign language, students’ scores in their math and reading classes are below state goals such as at Havenview Middle, Ridgeway Middle and Sherwood Middle schools.

“How do we justify spending resources when clearly they need more help on the basics?” Hopson asked board members.

In the budget proposal, Sherwood, Craigmont & Highland Oaks would lose their foreign language programs.  The remaining schools would have a number of foreign language classes reduced.

Board member David Pickler encouraged Hopson to consider keeping as many foreign language classes in the early grades.

“School districts in this country introduce foreign language too late in comparison with schools in other countries,” Pickler said.

Board member Chris Caldwell asked Hopson if he would reinvest in world languages if the district came across an additional $1.8 million.

“That’s not where I would spend it,” Hopson said.

SCS board member Teresa Jones said after hearing arguments about the issue, she was uncertain whether to support the cuts.

“If the (academic) numbers aren’t improving, then students need more exposure to core subjects,” said Jones , who received more than 200 emails from citizens on the issue.  “For me, this is going to be a tough decision.

Hopson said the district’s priorities should be placing effective teachers and leaders into classrooms and investing in them. 

Hitesh Haria, the district’s Chief of Business Operations,  said in a presentation on school start times, it will cost $3.3 million to move from three to two start times.  The move requires more buses and drivers. The administration is proposing that the district outsource its transportation.

Board members seemed to come to a consensus about keeping three start times, but were open to the possibility of later start times.

Toward the end of the meeting, SCS Chief of Security Gerald Darling said students in schools with a high number of violent incidents will be required to carry clear backpacks to schools.  The backpack program will start in the this fall and is paid through a grant.

Price of entry

Becoming a Colorado teacher could soon require fewer transcripts, more training on English learners

Stephanie Wujek teaches science at Wiggins Middle School , on April 5, 2017 in Wiggins, Colorado. Rural areas are having a hard time finding teachers in areas like math and science. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

The rules for becoming a teacher in Colorado are about to change — and officials hope the moves will help attract more math teachers and better prepare educators to work with students learning English.

The changes, which the Colorado Department of Education proposed this week, would also cut down on the paperwork needed to enter the profession and make it easier for teachers licensed in other states to re-enter the classroom after they move to Colorado.

The package of changes also includes a slimmed-down teacher evaluation rubric, the first major revision to the rules under Colorado’s 2010 teacher effectiveness law.

Among the proposed changes:

  • Less paperwork for new teachers. Applicants for a teaching license would no longer have to provide transcripts for every school they attended, only the transcripts for the school that granted them their highest degree. (Many colleges hold transcripts hostage for unpaid debt, even minor ones like unpaid parking tickets.
  • Less paperwork for teachers coming from other states. Experienced, licensed teachers from outside Colorado would no longer need to provide transcripts or prove that their teacher preparation program met Colorado standards.
  • More flexibility about previous teaching experience. Licensed teachers from other states would no longer need to have previously worked under a full-time contract to qualify for a Colorado license.
  • A new credential limited to middle-school math. Right now, Colorado only has a secondary math endorsement, which requires competency in trigonometry and calculus. That’s a barrier for teachers moving from other states with a math endorsement limited to middle school, and some see it as a roadblock for those who feel comfortable with algebra but not higher-level math.
  • Additional pathways for counselors and nurses to get licensed to work in schools.

Two bills making their way through the Colorado General Assembly this session would remove another barrier for out-of-state teachers. To qualify for a Colorado license today, teachers must have had three years of continuous teaching experience. If those bills are signed into law, applicants would only need three years of experience in the previous seven years.

Together, the proposals indicate how Colorado officials are working to make it a little easier to become a teacher in the state, which is facing a shortage in math teachers, counselors, and school nurses, among other specialties, as well as a shortage in many rural districts.

Colleen O’Neil, executive director of educator talent for the Colorado Department of Education, said many of the proposed changes came out of listening sessions focused on the state’s teacher shortage held around the state.  

The changes still don’t mean that if you’re a teacher anywhere in the country, you can easily become a teacher in Colorado. Just six states have full reciprocity, meaning anyone with a license from another state can teach with no additional requirements, according to the Education Commission of the States. Teachers whose licenses and endorsements don’t have a direct equivalent in Colorado would still need to apply for an interim license and then work to meet the standards of the appropriate Colorado license or endorsement.

The rule changes also add some requirements. Among those changes:

  • Prospective teachers will need more training on how to work with students learning English. Most significantly, all educator preparation programs would have to include six semester hours or 90 clock hours of training.
  • So will teachers renewing their licenses. They will need 45 clock hours, though the requirement wouldn’t kick in until the first full five-year cycle after the teacher’s most recent renewal. A teacher who just got her license renewed this year would have nine years to complete that additional training, as the requirement wouldn’t apply until the next renewal cycle. Superintendents in districts where less than 2 percent of the students are English language learners could apply for a waiver.

Colorado’s educator preparation rules already call for specialized training for teaching English language learners, but the rule change makes the requirements more explicit.

“We’re the sixth-largest state for English language learners,” O’Neil said. “We want to make sure our educators are equipped to teach all our learners.”

The rule changes would also “streamline,” in O’Neil’s words, the teacher evaluation process. Here’s what would change:

  • The five teacher quality standards would become four. “Reflection” and “leadership” are combined into “professionalism.”
  • The underlying elements of those standards would be reduced, too. Twenty-seven elements would become 17.

Fifty school districts and one charter collaborative have been testing the new evaluation system this year in a pilot program. O’Neil said most of the feedback has been positive, and the rest of the feedback has been to urge officials to winnow down the standards even further. That’s not a change she would support, O’Neil said.

“The reality is that teaching actually is rocket science,” she said. “There are a lot of practices and elements that go into good teaching.”

The state is accepting additional public comment on the rules until April 20, and a public hearing will be held in May. The new rules are expected to be adopted this summer.

Submit written feedback online or send an email to the State Board of Education at state.board@cde.state.co.us.

bias in the classroom

‘Disciplinarians first and teachers second’: black male teachers say they face an extra burden

PHOTO: The Laradon School
A teacher and a student at The Laradon School in Denver work together with tactile teaching tools.

As a first-year teacher, Pierce Bond took on a remarkable responsibility: helping other teachers by disciplining or counseling misbehaving students.

That left him to make tough choices, like whether to disrupt his own class mid-lesson to handle problems in the school’s detention room. “Sometimes you have to make that decision,” he told an interviewer. “Do I stop whatever I’m doing now to go deal with this situation?”

The burden was placed on him because he is one of small share of black men in the teaching profession, posits a study published this month in The Urban Review, a peer-reviewed journal. The study relies on interview 27 black male teachers in Boston’s public schools — including Bond, who like others, was identified by a pseudonym — and found several experiences like his.

“Participants perceived that their peers and school administrators positioned them to serve primarily as disciplinarians first and teachers second,” write authors Travis Bristol of Boston University and Marcelle Mentor of the College of New Rochelle.

The paper acknowledges that interviewees were a small, non-random sample of teachers in one district, and their results might not apply elsewhere. But other researchers and policymakers, including former Secretary of Education John King, have acknowledged the phenomenon, which may contribute to schools’ difficulties recruiting and retaining teachers of color.

“Children of color and white children need to see different types of people standing in front of them and teaching them,” said Bristol. “After we recruit [teachers of color], we have to be mindful about how they are positioned in their building and draw on the things they are doing that are successful.”

In the study, which draws from Bristol’s dissertation on the experiences of black male teachers, a number of them described a similar experience: colleagues assuming that they were better able to deal with perceived behavioral issues, particularly among black boys.

One veteran teacher, Adebayo Adjayi, described how older students were regularly sent into his early elementary classroom, making his regular teaching role significantly more difficult.

“Adjayi recognized that his classroom became the school’s disciplinary room, a holding area, and he had become the school disciplinarian,” the researchers write. “Without considering the type of environment that would most support [the school’s] students who were deemed misbehaving, the fifth graders were placed in the same classroom as the prekindergartners.”

Christopher Brooks, a high school teacher, explained how seemingly small favors for colleagues began to add up. “He first said yes to one teacher who asked him, ‘Can you just talk to so-and-so because he’s not giving up his phone?’ and then to another colleague who asked, ‘Can I leave Shawn in here? He can’t seem to sit still.’ By that time, it had become the unspoken norm that Brooks would attend to his colleagues’ misbehaving students,” the study says.

Brooks says this played a role in how he arranged his day, since he knew he needed to be prepared to receive additional students some periods or solve a problem during lunch.

Other teachers told the researchers the the extra responsibilities don’t bother them.

“I understand it because I know how to speak the kids’ language,” said Okonkwo Sutton, a first-year charter school teacher. “I’ve had a very similar childhood and background as many of them.”  

Some of those interviewed questioned the assumptions behind the idea that they should serve as disciplinarians. Peter Baldwin, a novice teacher, described how a colleague suggested he would be able to help one struggling student by talking “man to man.”

“I don’t think he was just gonna respond to me better than others because I’m me, or because I’m a male or because I’m black,” Baldwin said. “I think because I sort of invested time … we’ve built a relationship.”

There’s little if any research on how this additional work or stress affects black male teachers’ job satisfaction, retention, or performance. But there is evidence that teachers of color leave the classroom at a higher rate and are less satisfied with their jobs than white teachers.

At a national level, the numbers are striking: only 2 percent of teachers are black men. Meanwhile, research has repeatedly linked black teachers to better outcomes — test scores, high school graduation rates, behavior — for black students, and that’s led to national pushes to diversify the predominantly white teaching profession, as well as local programs like NYC Men Teach.

The study emphasizes that the findings don’t apply to all black male teachers, and doesn’t try to quantify the experience of being treated as disciplinarians. But the authors suggest that treating black male teachers that way could be unfair to them, their colleagues, and their students.

“School administrators should work to develop more expansive roles for black male teachers and become more cognizant of how black male teachers are implicitly and explicitly positioned in their schools,” the paper says. “Equally important, administrators should work to develop the capacity of all teachers to support and engage all students.”