refocusing

Teach Plus to end fellowship program in Memphis

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Tanya Hill, a Teach Plus fellow and ESL teacher, encourages a student at Kate Bond Elementary School in Memphis.

After seven years in Memphis, a national nonprofit group that trains teachers how to impact legislation and policy is pulling its fellowship program.

Instead, Teach Plus will focus on a partnership with Shelby County Schools that will train teacher leaders.

The fellowship will end this fall as the current class of 18 Memphis teacher fellows completes the program.

Teach Plus has trained more than 100 fellows in Memphis since 2009 and has been led since 2015 by Miska Clay Bibbs, a school board member with Shelby County Schools.

Clay Bibbs said the decision to pull the program was made by senior management with the Boston-based organization.

Emily Silberstein, a vice president with Teach Plus, said the organization is seeking to better align its work in Memphis with Shelby County Schools’ engagement work centered on recruiting and supporting teachers. Kemba Edwards, teacher engagement manager for Teach Plus Memphis, will head that partnership.

In a letter to supporters on Wednesday, Clay Bibbs said the national organization will continue to assist fellowship alumni in Memphis “to advocate for issues that are important to them and their students.”

She told Chalkbeat the program leaves a strong legacy. “The lasting impression for me in my time here is how powerful it is when it clicks in teachers’ heads how powerful their own voice can be,” said Clay Bibbs.

Katie Kaplan, a teacher at Memphis Delta Prep who is in the city’s current class of fellows, said she’s sad that other teachers cannot benefit from the Teach Plus experience she’s had.

“(The fellowship) truly exposed me to the world of politics and how teachers can be at the same table as policymakers and elected officials,” said Kaplan, recalling her engagement work during Shelby County Schools’ recent budget season. “You make such a difference when you include teachers at that table; it shifts the language to a student-centered focus. It’s a loss to see the program leave Memphis.”

In addition to Tennessee, Teach Plus provides teacher leadership programs in California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland and Massachusetts.

East Bound

To convert historic East High into T-STEM school, Hopson taps proven STEM principal

PHOTO: Micaela Watts
Principal Lischa Brooks meets with parents during a 2016 open house at Maxine Smith STEAM Academy in Memphis.

In less than three years, Principal Lischa Brooks has led Maxine Smith STEAM Academy to become the go-to middle school for Memphis families seeking a rigorous academic program emphasizing science, technology, engineering, math and the arts.

Now, Shelby County Schools is turning to the 20-year education veteran to transform one of its most iconic schools.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson announced this week that Brooks will become the new leader of East High School as it transitions to an optional T-STEM school, with an emphasis on transportation and STEM.

The move indicates the district’s commitment to East, a sprawling school in midtown Memphis that could have faced closure due to a gradual loss of students, poor performance on state tests, and the high cost of maintaining its 69-year-old building.

The founding principal of Maxine Smith, Brooks is a former classroom teacher and technology coordinator. She is also a graduate of East.

“Moving Principal Brooks to this new role will expand her reach to the high school level and continuing to ensure innovative STEM education across the 6th grade through 12th grade continuum,” Hopson said in a news release. “Her versatility and proven experience will ensure the new program at East is launched strategically and successfully.”

Maxine Smith opened as an all-optional middle school in the fall of 2014 in the building that housed Fairview Middle School before its closure earlier that year.

Under Brooks’ leadership, Maxine Smith’s test scores quickly rose to the top of the school system. It has become such a popular school that parents typically camp out on the district’s central office lawn every January to secure a spot for their children on the first day that optional school applications are accepted.

Fairview had served mostly black students from low-income families, but Maxine Smith looks very different. Last year, only about 16 percent of its study body was considered economically disadvantaged, compared to 59 percent for the district overall. It also had a 50-50 split of students who are white and of color. Districtwide, less than 8 percent of students are white.

The school that Brooks will take over this fall looks much more like Fairview than Maxine Smith, even as it transitions to an optional school.

In recent decades, East’s enrollment has decreased to 500 in a school built for 2,000. Its student body is mostly black, and about 70 percent are considered economically disadvantaged. Last year, East was identified in the state’s bottom 10 percent of schools academically, making it vulnerable to state intervention.

East High’s transition to an all-optional school will also be slower than at Maxine Smith. The T-STEM Academy will accept ninth-graders in the fall and phase in a grade each year, allowing current East students to continue there and eventually graduate.

Brooks will split her time between East and Maxine Smith for the remainder of this school year before moving full time to her alma mater this fall. Marilyn Hilliard, East’s current principal, will continue in a support role. Meanwhile, Maxine Smith will be led on an interim basis by its current assistant principal, Keith Booker.

“I am humbled and honored to accept this role and develop a curriculum continuum for our students,” Brooks said. “This will expand the work that we have begun at Maxine Smith STEAM Academy to include the T-STEM program at East High.”

power players

Who’s who in Indiana education: House Speaker Brian Bosma

PHOTO: Sarah Glen

Find more entries on education power players as they publish here.

Vitals: Republican representing District 88, covering parts of Marion, Hancock and Hamilton counties. So far, has served 31 years in the legislature, 9 of those as Speaker of the House. Bosma is a lawyer at the firm Kroger, Gardis & Regas.

Why he’s a power player: Bosma was House Speaker in 2011, when the state passed its large education reform package, creating the first voucher program for students from low-income families. Along with Rep. Bob Behning, Bosma helped develop the state’s voucher program bill as well as the bill that expanded charter school efforts that year. As a party and chamber leader, he plays a major role in setting House Republicans’ legislative agendas.

On toeing the party line: With the debate over state-funded preschool front and center during this year’s session, Bosma has expressed far more enthusiasm than his fellow Republicans for expanding the state’s program. Indeed, Bosma has long been a supporter of state-sponsored preschool. Currently, low-income families in five counties can apply for vouchers to use at high-quality preschool providers. Bosma has said he’d like to see that number triple, if not more.

Recent action: In 2016, Bosma ushered through one of the few teacher-focused bills that became law in the wake of news that some districts in the state were struggling to hire teachers. The bill created a state scholarship fund for prospective teachers, and began awarding money to students this year.

A perhaps little-known fact: In the late 1980s, Bosma worked at the Indiana Department of Education as the legislative adviser to H. Dean Evans, the state superintendent at that time. Then, as with this year’s House Bill 1005, lawmakers advocated to make the state superintendent an appointed position, a bill Bosma is carrying this year.

Who supports him: In past elections, Bosma has received campaign contributions from Education Networks of America, a private education technology company; Hoosiers for Quality Education, an advocacy group that supports school choice, charter schools and vouchers; Stand for Children, a national organization that supports education reform and helps parents to organize; K12, one of the largest online school providers in the country.

Conversely, given his support for choice-based reform, the Indiana Coalition for Public Education gave Bosma an “F” in its 2016 legislative report card highlighting who it thinks has been supportive of public schools.

Legislative highlights via Chalkbeat:

Bills in past years: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

Also check out our list of bills to watch this year.