stepping up

Michael Kraft replaces Insideschools’ Laura Zingmond on the Panel for Educational Policy

PHOTO: Andi Kraft
Michael Kraft

Michael Kraft, president of Art and Design High School’s Parent Teacher Association, was appointed Monday to the New York City Panel for Educational Policy by the Manhattan borough president.

Kraft, who spent 26 years working in telecommunications, most recently at Verizon, will relinquish his current post on the Citywide Council on High Schools. He replaces Laura Zingmond, a senior editor at Insideschools, the school-review site affiliated with the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School.

The Panel for Educational Policy – or PEP – consists of 13 members, five appointed by the borough presidents and the rest appointed by the mayor. It meets monthly, approving co-locations and rule changes, and acting as the school system’s governing board.

Zingmond, a high-profile appointee who served nearly three years on the panel, said she stepped down to focus on her responsibilities at work. “It seemed like the right time,” she said. “Michael’s the perfect person to pass the baton to.”

Borough President Gale Brewer agreed. “In his many leadership roles, Michael has grappled directly with some of the biggest issues facing our school system today, from the high school admissions process to capital planning, security, and more,” she said in a statement.

Kraft is joining the board after a quiet few months. But he’s likely to face votes about school mergers — including the planned merger of two Harlem schools announced last week — and charter school co-locations as the school year continues.

Kraft said he is excited to join the PEP, and considers it a good fit.

“I feel like I’ve had a lot of experience working with a wide array of people and interests,” he said, “and trying to get them all on the same page.”

Leaving

Ramirez resigns as academics chief for Shelby County Schools

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier
Heidi Ramirez visits a class in 2014 at Southwind High School in Memphis soon after she was named the district's chief academic officer. Ramirez announced her resignation from Shelby County Schools on Tuesday.

Heidi Ramirez has resigned as chief of academics for Shelby County Schools, less than 2½  years after coming to Memphis to help turn around the fledgling district following a massive restructuring of the city’s education landscape.

In a letter emailed Tuesday morning to district principals and instructional leaders, Ramirez said she was leaving “to be closer to loved ones and take on new challenges.”

“I am so proud of the great work we have been able to accomplish together,” she wrote. “Together, we have accelerated implementation of both supports for struggling learners and good first teaching — especially in literacy, while also improving the overall climate for learning for both students and staff.”

Shelby County Schools confirmed Tuesday that her resignation is effective March 31, and Ramirez wrote that she would “ensure a successful transition process.”

Her resignation comes a little over a month after a restructuring of district leadership that included the promotion of Innovation Zone leader Sharon Griffin to chief of schools. Ramirez, who was hired as chief academic officer, became chief of academics. Meanwhile, Griffin took on some of the responsibilities previously shouldered by Ramirez and Brad Leon, now chief of strategy and performance management. All three serve on Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s cabinet.

Ramirez came to Memphis from Milwaukee Public Schools. She previously was associate dean for the College of Education and director for Urban Education Collaborative at Temple University, and at one time served on Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission.

When she arrived in Memphis in 2014, she was tasked with helping to increase the number of students reading on grade level, as well as the district’s graduation rate.

Those efforts may be starting to pay off.

She spearheaded a comprehensive literacy plan that pushed to improve reading skills across the curriculum. Last year, the district earned high marks for literacy growth for high school students who took the state’s TNReady test. However, overall growth scores were down, and the district is still far from its Destination 2025 goal of boosting third-grade reading proficiency to 90 percent by 2025.

Graduation rates have seen a slight bump, too. Some 78.7 percent of seniors received their diplomas in 2016, up from 75 percent the previous school year.

“I’m most proud of the work (we) have done to raise and reinforce expectations for our students,” she wrote, “and the continued evidence … that all of our children can achieve to high standards of career and college readiness…”

In her letter, Ramirez trumpets that student attendance is up and suspensions are down. She cites improvements in kindergarten readiness and student access to complex tests, and also notes that the growth in graduation rates extends to the district’s large population of black students, those with disabilities, and English language learners.

In a statement, Hopson praised Ramirez, especially for her work on Destination 2025, the district’s strategic plan.

“(Her) vision has helped enhance planning and coordination across all of our academic departments and stakeholders — from teachers and coaches to school and district leaders,” he said.

Hopson told Chalkbeat that the district will look to tweak the job description in collaboration with Griffin before Ramirez leaves. “With all the work she’s done, I think we’re going to take it to the next level,” he said.

With approximately 105,000 students, Shelby County Schools is Tennessee’s largest school district, the result of a 2013 merger of Memphis City Schools and legacy Shelby County Schools, followed by the exit a year later of six suburban municipalities that started their own school system.

Correction, February 21, 2017: This article has been updated to include the correct percentages of graduation rates for Shelby County Schools. A previous version listed the state percentages instead of the district’s.

New Hire

Corporate leader tapped to handle facilities, business for Memphis schools

PHOTO: Daarel Burnette
Administrative offices for Tennessee's largest school district

Shelby County Schools has hired a corporate executive in Memphis to oversee its business operations.

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
Beth Phalen

In her new role with Tennessee’s largest district, Beth Phalen will oversee facilities planning and maintenance, nutrition services, district purchases and contracts, transportation and risk management.

She was most recently executive vice president of strategy and operations for ISS Facility Services and before that served as vice president of business operations at Memphis-based ServiceMaster.

Phalen fills a vacancy open since mid-2015 and rounds out Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s leadership team. Hopson took the helm in 2013 as the district’s first chief after the former Memphis City Schools merged with legacy Shelby County Schools.

The hire comes as Shelby County Schools is reshaping its facilities footprint and seeking to maintain a large number of aging buildings. The district also is seeking to diversify its business contracts to include more minority- and women-owned businesses.

Phalen replaces Hitesh Haria, now with Oakland Unified School District in California. Cerita Butler, the district’s director of business operations and procurement, has served as interim chief.