Transition

Former Indianapolis principal hired to overhaul Memphis charter school office

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Brad Leon, chief of strategy and performance management for Shelby County Schools, confers in 2016 with the district's charter overseers including Stacey Thompson and Charisse Sales. Leon will continue to supervise the office now headed by Daphnè Robinson.

Tennessee’s largest hub of charter schools has a new director who will build her team from the ground up, replacing the managers who have overseen the growing sector since its inception in Memphis in 2003.

Daphnè Robinson started this week with Shelby County Schools and will manage applications, renewals and evaluations for its 45 charter schools. She replaces Charisse Sales, who has led the office for more than a decade and will stay with the school system in another capacity.

Most recently, Robinson worked three years as a principal at an Indianapolis charter school, where since 2005 she held various positions including enrollment coordinator and director of counseling.

She is also the wife of Memphis Education Fund CEO Marcus Robinson, who joined the philanthropic collaborative last summer and has brought several colleagues with him from Tindley Accelerated Schools in Indianapolis, where his wife also worked. Formerly known as Teacher Town, the Memphis Education Fund invests in the city’s lowest-performing public schools through programs such as the district’s Innovation Zone.

The leadership change in the charter school office comes as Shelby County Schools seeks to overhaul its oversight of the sector in consultation with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. Last year, the group affirmed the work of the three-person charter team but recommended hiring specialists and reorganizing the office as the district seeks to double its staffing.

In a statement this week, district leaders praised Sales and her team and dismissed concerns about the wholesale turnover.

“We are confident that with the institutional knowledge of Chief of Strategy and Performance Management Brad Leon (who has supervised the charter office since 2013), and under the leadership of Daphnè Robinson, the new staffing plan will help ensure we are able to align our work to national best practices,” the statement said.

Colleagues who worked with Robinson in Indianapolis said she’ll bring on-the-ground charter school experience to Memphis.

“She knows which systems that need to be in place for non-negotiables to have a high bar of excellence that become a control across the city,” said Memphis’ Gateway University school founder Sosepriala Dede, who was a Tindley vice principal when she was director of counseling there. “What they specialize in (at Tindley) is exactly what Memphis charter schools need.”

opinion

Chancellor Fariña on why losing mayoral control ‘would mean chaos, gridlock and corruption’

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

As the leader charged with providing a high-quality education to 1.1 million New York City students, I have to be honest with you:

Our school system is headed for disaster. You may have heard something in the news about mayoral control. Let me explain what it is and why losing it would be devastating.

The state government must act to keep the mayor in charge of our schools by June 30. If they don’t, the entire system will slide back into the old, decentralized structure we had before. That would mean chaos, gridlock and corruption. I should know, I’ve been working in city schools since the 1960s. I saw what happened before 2002 when we put the mayor in charge.

First and foremost, today, the leadership of our schools makes sense. I am accountable for continued progress in our schools and the mayor is my boss. That means New Yorkers know exactly who to blame if things aren’t going well and exactly who to call when they need something done. It also means that the largest school system in the nation has an executive with real power to shake things up, innovate on behalf of students and families, and make wholesale changes that benefit all corners of the city.

If Albany lets mayoral control lapse, there will be no one accountable for progress. Our schools have never been stronger, and all that we have accomplished together will be at risk. Instead, power will be in the hands of 32 separate community school boards. That will mean a mountain of new red tape and surging costs due to inefficiency. According to the Independent Budget Office, costs dropped 22 percent after mayoral control was enacted in 2002.

But that’s not the worst of it. The most catastrophic thing is how our students will suffer.

With 32 separate entities in charge of the “system,” it will be nothing more than a constant struggle for resources. Some communities will win and some will lose. Some communities will get more than their share and some will be asked to do with much less. If parents think that’s unfair, who can they complain to?

Having 32 separate school boards is ripe for corruption. Isolated districts are small enough to be taken over by factions who aren’t putting the best interest of kids first. In the past, these boards too frequently ended up as personal property that could be bartered and traded, and used to reward cronies. Under the old system, entire districts did not have well-trained teachers or necessary materials. This isn’t just speculation – again, I was there.

Managers, appointed by the local school boards, inflated the price of contracts to generate lucrative kickbacks that took money directly away from students and siphoned money from taxpayers. One district alone stole $6 million from students, paying 81 employees for jobs they never showed up to. In another, school safety was entrusted to a high-level gang member.

Before mayoral control, graduation rates hovered around 50 percent and many schools simply were not safe. Students in the city consistently did worse than their peers across the state on standardized tests.

In the 15 years since mayors have controlled the school system, New Yorkers have seen a turnaround that has been nothing less than stunning.

Right now, New York City’s graduation rate is the highest in history. The drop-rate rate is the lowest it has ever been. For the first time ever, our students beat the rest of the state on English tests. Crime in schools has fallen 35 percent over the last five years. And we have the highest-ever college enrollment rate.

Mayor de Blasio has brought change to every district in the city. In two short years, we have added free, full-day, high-quality pre-K for every 4-year-old. Now, we are working to do the same with 3-K, instruction for 3-year-olds.

We have after-school programs for every middle schooler and we’ve made investments in school facilities—guaranteeing that every classroom is air conditioned and every school has a gym. All of these accomplishments, and many others, are a direct result of mayoral control.

I want to be clear: This isn’t about the mayor I work for. Mayoral control is vital for New Yorkers no matter who the mayor is.

There is only one proven way to run the New York City school system — that’s putting our schools in the hands of a duly elected, accountable leader, the mayor of New York. The future of our City is at stake unless Albany takes immediate action.

Carmen Fariña is chancellor of the New York City Department of Education.

Transition

New principal named for Memphis school at the center of grading investigation

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Trezevant High School serves the Frayser community under Shelby County Schools in Memphis.

Shelby County Schools is turning to a veteran principal with school turnaround experience to take the helm of Trezevant High School, where its last leader unearthed grading irregularities that have shaken the entire district.

Corey Kelly

Corey Kelly just finished his fourth year as principal at Sherwood Middle School. Both Sherwood Middle and Trezevant High are part of the Innovation Zone, the district’s intense program for improving low-performing schools.

Kelly officially starts at Trezevant on July 31, but already has begun work at the Frayser school, district spokeswoman Kristin Tallent said Friday. She called Kelly a “dynamic leader.”

He follows Ronnie Mackin, who became Trezevant’s principal last August and soon after discovered discrepancies between some student report cards and transcripts. Mackin reported the irregularities to district administrators, who hired an independent firm this spring to review transcripts from all of high schools in the system for the last four years. That review is ongoing.

Trezevant has been in the news for years, distinguishing itself both for its championship-winning football program and its “priority school” status for test scores in the state’s bottom 5 percent.

In 2014, the school was moved to the district’s iZone in an effort to boost academic performance. This year, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson named Trezevant one of 14 “critical focus” schools receiving additional investments in an effort to save them from closure.

Before taking the top job at Sherwood Middle, Kelly was principal at Havenview Middle School for almost nine years and an assistant principal at A. Maceo Walker Middle and Georgia Avenue Elementary. He also taught for seven years at Hillcrest High.

Kelly was among dozens of statewide stakeholders chosen to collaborate last year with the State Department of Education to develop Tennessee’s new schools plan under the federal education law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA. Kelly’s working group focused on accountability.