refocusing

Teach Plus to end fellowship program in Memphis

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Teach Plus fellow Tanya Hill, an ESL teacher at Kate Bond Elementary School in Memphis, encourages a student to read what's on the board.

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.

big gig

Former Denver schools administrator tapped to be D.C. schools chancellor

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Antwan Wilson when he was principal of Denver's Montbello High School.

Former Denver principal and assistant superintendent Antwan Wilson has been nominated to lead the high-profile Washington, D.C. school district.

“This is a tremendous opportunity,” Wilson told the Washington Post. “It is the premier job leading a district in the entire country.”

Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who nominated Wilson, praised him in a statement, referencing the fact that Wilson, 44, grew up in poverty.

“In his 20 plus years in education, Antwan Wilson has been a teacher, a principal, an assistant superintendent and a superintendent, and at every level, he has been successful,” she said. “Not only is he an experienced leader, Mr. Wilson is role model for our students. His success proves that with hard work, they can achieve what they set out to do.”

For the past two and a half years, Wilson has been superintendent of the Oakland, Calif. school district. Prior to that, he served for five years as assistant superintendent in Denver Public Schools, supervising DPS’ middle, high and alternative schools. He was previously an instructional superintendent in Denver and principal of the now-closed Montbello High School.

While in a leadership role in Denver, Wilson oversaw the turnaround of struggling Montbello High, which was shuttered and replaced with three smaller schools. He also helped with several other secondary-school initiatives.

“If you said five years ago ‘here’s what I’m going to do in Denver: cut the dropout rate in half, increase on time graduation rate by 20 points, and cut suspensions and expulsions by more than half,’ a lot of people would have said ‘be serious.’ He led those initiatives and he did it,” DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg told the East Bay Times in 2014.

Mike Vaughn, who was chief communications officer for DPS during part of Wilson’s tenure, remembers him as a champion for all students, regardless of their background.

“Everything he did was focused on getting every kid a chance to get through high school and do well,” Vaughn said Tuesday. A lot of people talk about educational equity, Vaughn said, but “Antwan talks about it, lives it, breathes it and acts on it. He’s an inspiring person.”

The D.C. Council will have to approve Wilson’s nomination, according to the mayor’s statement. Wilson is expected to start Feb. 1 with a salary of $280,000.

Wilson will face several challenges as head of D.C. schools, the Washington Post reported, including increasing test scores and graduation rates for black male students, narrowing achievement gaps between the gentrifying city’s poor and affluent children, and negotiating a new contract with the teachers union.

Movers and shakers

Colorado League of Charter Schools president Nora Flood leaving to lead new Walton Family Foundation program

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Nora Flood addresses an audience at a school board forum in Jefferson County.

The leader of the Colorado League of Charter Schools is leaving next year to help start a new program of the Walton Family Foundation, the league announced Friday.

Nora Flood has worked for the league for more than eight years and became president in 2013.

“I leave the organization humbled, honored, and excited to start a new chapter in my life,” Flood wrote in a letter to the organization’s schools and supporters. “I hope that you continue to support our team and the League’s ever-so-important work. And I look forward to seeing you all as we cross paths going forward.”

Flood said she felt comfortable leaving because of the strength of the association, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2018.

“I believe that the League is in great hands with its talented staff and dedicated board,” she wrote. “The organization is incredibly healthy and sustainable.”

The league exists to support charter schools during their start-up phase, train school leaders and staff, and advocate for charters at the legislature. Charter schools are publicly funded but run independently.

Flood will become education director for the James Walton Fund, a program of the Walton Family Foundation. The foundation is among the largest proponents and fiscal supporters of charter schools in the nation. (The Walton Family Foundation is also a financial supporter of Chalkbeat).

In her new role, Flood will be responsible for identifying and growing successful nontraditional education models in the charter sector, especially the Montessori model, that encourages students to direct their learning.

Flood previously ran Montessori schools before joining the league. James Walton, an engineer who lives in the Denver area, has spent time volunteering at Montessori charters, and he previously started a Montessori teacher-training center.

The league’s board will begin a search for a new president after the Thanksgiving holiday.