Future of Teaching

Because of missed enrollment projections, more than 220 teachers could be laid off

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has overseen Shelby County Schools since the 2013 merger of Memphis City Schools and the legacy Shelby County district.

At least 220 Shelby County School teachers, some who were likely just hired over the summer, could once again find themselves unemployed because administrators overestimated the district’s enrollment by 3,900 students.

In a letter sent to teachers Tuesday evening, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II assured employees that his goal is to protect positions of those working closest to students.

“…I truly regret any time budgetary decisions affect employees —  especially those in our school buildings,” Hopson said.

The district stopped hiring external teacher candidates a few weeks ago once it realized enrollment projections, which determine the amount of school-based positions, were inflated.

The enrollment is measured after the 20th day of the school year.

“Historically, we have been pretty accurate with projections, but it was especially difficult this year due to uncertainties surrounding the opening of six new municipal districts,” officials said.

The district fractured into seven districts over the summer when six municipalities decided to create their own school systems.

Shelby County Schools administrators said they expect with the use of existing vacancies and funds, the number of affected employees will be fewer than 100.

Next week the district is holding a job fair only for displaced internal candidates. Every principal with a teaching vacancy will be encouraged to attend.

This past summer, after hundreds of teachers were laid off, Shelby County Schools created a re-employment list for teachers affected by school closures and job cuts after June 30.  Principals with vacancies were asked to review the internal candidates on the list first, before looking at external candidates. Initially, about 300 teachers were on the list.  After several hiring fairs for both external and internal candidates the district hired roughly 200 teachers in late June.

Late last month, the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association said they were told by the district that 50 displaced teachers remained on the list.

Additional displaced teachers on the district’s waiting list was exactly what Shanda Hunt feared last month as she hoped to find a position after spending 11 years in Memphis. Hunt taught history at Lanier Middle, which closed in May.

Hunt worried that more excessed teachers on the re-employment list would make it more difficult to land a position.

The association has filed multiple lawsuits this year arguing that displaced tenured teachers should be automatically placed by central office staff rather than hand-picked by principals, a “mutual consent” process the district adopted this year.

Williams said this latest staffing issue only highlights the claims of the association lawsuit.

“The district is using a hiring practice that has no proven method for success,” he said. “If the district has hired 675 teachers, how can they not need them? And where are these positions that they say will be posted? The website doesn’t have many positions.”

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at [email protected] and (901) 730-4013.

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surprise!

Teachers in Millington and Knoxville just won the Oscar awards of education

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Millington English teacher Katherine Watkins reacts after learning that she is the recipient of a 2017 Milken Educator Award.

Two Tennessee teachers were surprised during school assemblies Thursday with a prestigious national teaching award, $25,000 checks, and a visit from the state’s education chief.

Katherine Watkins teaches high school English in Millington Municipal Schools in Shelby County. She serves as the English department chair and professional learning community coordinator at Millington Central High School. She is also a trained jazz pianist, published poet, and STEM teacher by summer.

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Paula Franklin learns she is among the recipients.

Paula Franklin teaches Advanced Placement government at West High School in Knoxville. Since she took on the course, its enrollment has doubled, and 82 percent of her students pass with an average score that exceeds the national average.

The teachers are two of 45 educators being honored nationally with this year’s Milken Educator Awards from the Milken Family Foundation. The award includes a no-strings-attached check for $25,000.

“It is an honor to celebrate two exceptional Tennessee educators today on each end of the state,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, who attended each assembly. “Paula Franklin and Katherine Watkins should be proud of the work they have done to build positive relationships with students and prepare them with the knowledge and skills to be successful in college and the workforce.”

Foundation chairman Lowell Milken was present to present the awards, which have been given to thousands of teachers since 1987.

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Students gather around Millington teacher Katherine Watkins as she receives a check as part of her Milken Educator Award.

The Milken awards process starts with recommendations from sources that the foundation won’t identify. Names are then reviewed by committees appointed by state departments of education, and their recommendations are vetted by the foundation, which picks the winners.

Last year, Chattanooga elementary school teacher Katie Baker was Tennessee’s sole winner.

In all, 66 Tennessee educators have been recognized by the Milken Foundation and received a total of $1.6 million since the program began in the state in 1992.

You can learn more about the Milken Educator Awards here.

Colorado Vote 2018

Polis campaign releases education plan, including new promise about teacher raises

Congressman Jared Polis meets with teachers, parents and students at the Academy of Urban Learning in Denver after announcing his gubernatorial campaign. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Congressman Jared Polis, one of several Democrats running for governor, released an education plan for the state Wednesday that includes new details on tackling teacher shortages and better preparing high school students for work.

The Boulder Democrat wants to help school districts build affordable housing for teachers, increase teacher pay and make sure that “100 percent of Colorado’s school districts are able to offer dual and concurrent enrollment programs through an associate’s degree or professional certification, and work to boost enrollment in them.”

The education plan includes the congressman’s initial campaign promise to deliver free and universal preschool and kindergarten.

“Part of my frustration is that politicians have been talking about preschool and kindergarten for decades,” Polis said in an interview with Chalkbeat. “It’s time to stop talking … and actually do it.”

Big questions remain, however, about how Colorado would pay for Polis’s plans.

Free universal preschool and kindergarten would cost hundreds of millions of tax dollars the state does not have. Polis has acknowledged that voters will need to approve a tax increase to secure the funding necessary — and voters rejected Colorado’s last big statewide ask to fund education initiatives.

His additional promises, especially providing schools with more money to pay teachers, only adds to the price tag for his education plan. The campaign did not release any projections of how much his teacher pay raise proposal would cost.

“If a teacher can’t afford to live in the community they work in, that is not going to be an attractive profession,” he said. “We need to do a better job in Colorado making sure teachers are rewarded for their hard work.”

Other components to Polis’s plan includes providing student loan relief for teachers who commit to serving in high-need and rural areas, increasing teacher training and building and renovating more.

Polis is the latest Democrat to roll out an education platform.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston released more details earlier this week about his campaign promise for tuition-free community college and job training.

Johnston’s campaign estimates that the initiative would cost about $47 million annually. The campaign provided specifics on how the state would pay for it: by combining existing federal grants and state scholarships, revenue from online sales tax, and state workforce development funding. Savings from volunteer hours put in by tuition recipients also are factored in.

Former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy released her education plan last month.

Like Polis, Kennedy is calling for teacher raises. She wants the state’s average salary to be closer to the national average. The former state treasurer also wants to expand preschool and job training for high school students. A key piece of Kennedy’s proposal to pay for her initiatives: reforming the state’s tax laws to generate more revenue.

Other Democrats running to replace Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited, include Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and businessman Noel Ginsburg.

The Republican field to replace Hickenlooper, a Democrat, is also crowded. Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced earlier this month that she’s running. Other leading Republican candidates include former Congressman Tom Tancredo, state Treasurer Walker Stapleton, and businessmen Doug Robinson and Victor Mitchell. George Brauchler, district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, dropped out of the race to instead run for attorney general.