Lightning talks

Memphis education stories to take center stage at Ignite Edu

PHOTO: Ignite Edu
The first education-themed Ignite event will come to Memphis on Monday, April 24.

Memphians, what do you want the world to know about education in your city?

On April 24, a dozen people will seek to answer that question in five minutes as part of Ignite Edu, a national presentation series returning to Memphis. (Chalkbeat is helping to host the event — the first one focusing on education — at Clayborn Temple. For details, visit Ignite Edu).

Andrea Fitzgerald

Among the speakers is Andrea Fitzgerald, a Memphis educator who wants to use the stage to shout, “Memphis education isn’t failing. Stop saying that it is, and start putting in the work.”

The Memphis native returned to her alma mater, Kirby High School, to teach math for seven years before becoming a Shelby County Schools math coach. Her five-minute talk will focus on the city’s education “mindset” and how teachers, students and leaders can be more positive.

“Teaching in this city will teach you empathy above all else,” she told Chalkbeat. “When you understand what kids … are up against — sometimes they’re the parent of their household or they don’t have anyone to wake them up in the morning — you understand more why they might be late to class.”

Fitzgerald’s talk will dive into what’s missing in statements like “Memphis schools are bad schools” or “Memphis education will never be good.”

“This has to be an all-team effort,” said Fitzgerald, a former college basketball player at Carson–Newman University. “We can’t complain about being out of shape and then not commit to do the pushups. The question is, are you willing to join in?”

Check out the full list of speakers below. Ticket sales are available online, and Chalkbeat readers can enter the word CHALKBEAT for a $5 discount.

Lanell Smith, regional fellowship recruitment manager, Education Pioneers — By the Numbers: Data and Leaders of Color

“We see a shortage of people of color in data and analysis in public education. Many qualified candidates don’t realize what jobs are available in education outside of teaching. That needs to change.”

Trakela Small, dean of academics, Freedom Preparatory Academy Middle School — Education Cannot Be Colorblind

“Colorblindness and fear around race are damaging our students and teachers. This country was founded on the construct of race, so we cannot continue to ignore its impact in our schools.”

Shane Young, executive director, Memphis Inner City Rugby — Sport for Academic Achievement

“America has a sports obsession. We need to become obsessed with capitalizing on that obsession for our kids. “

Carly Gilson, special education doctoral candidate, Vanderbilt University — The Power of Expectations

“Research shows that expectations are the single greatest factor shaping our ability to be successful in all aspects of life. What happens when we as educators, parents and community members raise our expectations high enough for students of all abilities?”

Scarlett Hester, communications doctoral candidate, University of Memphis — Teaching Community & Listening in the Age of Trump

“Communication is key to education and so frequently we’re so focused on getting our ideas out there that we forget to stop and hear the voices of others.”

Clay Francis, doctoral student, Department of Leadership Policy & Organizations, Vanderbilt University — Why 500 Yards of Duct Tape Gives Me Hope for Education

“Duct tape can fix anything, even education. Come listen to find out how we can use experiential activities outside the classroom to help students understand the importance of multiple perspectives, interdependence, change and equity.”

Terry Ross, principal, Kingsbury High School — I Believe In You: Changing Mindsets and Rewriting Narratives

“My talk will help audiences see the power of our words when working with students on a daily basis.”

Tony Knox, founder, FitNexx — How Fit is Education?

“My talk will inspire people to get up and get their families moving … Not only will their health benefit from it, but their careers as well.”

Kimberly Hooper-Taylor, manager, youth and community education, Stax Museum of American Soul Music — No Frauds: From Faking It to Making It … Happen

Mary Webster — Museums as Community Partners

Hardy Farrow, founder, Let’s Innovate through Education — Why Our City Needs More Pipelines (Not The Road Kind)

Editor’s note: Chalkbeat is not a financial sponsor for Ignite Edu and is receiving no monetary benefit from the event. Chalkbeat is an independent nonprofit news organization and is partnering with Undercurrent to help host and promote Ignite Edu. You can learn more about Chalkbeat here.

New role

Principal Donna Taylor retiring from Brooklyn School of Inquiry, moving to DOE

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Kindergarten students at Brooklyn School of Inquiry

Brooklyn School of Inquiry Principal Donna Taylor announced this week she is stepping down from her position next month.

Taylor, who has been with the Bensonhurst school since it opened in 2009, will take a position with the Department of Education, where she will support principals implementing progressive education and gifted and talented programs — two focuses of BSI. The school, which runs from kindergarten to eighth grade, is one of five gifted and talented schools open to children citywide.

“BSI was created by a team who believes that students need an inquiry-based, arts-infused curriculum, steeped in technology, where everyone is encouraged to think critically,” Taylor said in a statement. “We came together down here in Bensonhurst to grow our practice and build capacity. I am proud of the work I’ve done together with the school’s community to build and grow BSI.”

Her announcement comes the same week that BSI graduated its first cohort of eighth-graders. Moving forward, Taylor is working with other school staff and her superintendent, Karina Constantino, to ensure a smooth transition. A new principal has not yet been named.

BSI is the only citywide gifted school that participates in the city’s Diversity in Admissions program. The admissions pilot allows principals to set aside a percentage of seats for students who are low-income, English learners or meet other criteria. In the case of BSI, the school set aside 40 percent of its available kindergarten seats for low-income students.

While it met that target in its admissions offers this year, it had few open seats because siblings of current BSI students get priority. That meant that only 20 slots were reserved for low-income students.

It will be up to Taylor’s successor, alongside city officials, to decide where to take the pilot program next.

“We have no way of knowing what the new leadership will do or who they will be or what their position will be on the program,” said Sara Mogulescu, the parent of two children currently studying at BSI. “But I know there is a very strong core of commitment to that pilot and to continue to strengthen our community in all kinds of ways, regardless of whether Donna is the principal.”

Despite her many accomplishments, Taylor’s eight years at the helm of BSI were not without controversy. In 2014, Taylor made headlines for a comment she made at an open-house meeting at BSI. She remarked to prospective parents, “If you don’t speak Spanish, you’re going to clean your own house.” Taylor subsequently apologized.

Mogulescu said Taylor had built a solid foundation at BSI, and she and other parents were confident about the school’s future — and Taylor’s.

“As much as we are all sad to see her go,” she said, “I think the parents take solace in the fact that she is going to be spreading her wisdom and experience to other schools.”

planning ahead

Big assignment for group of Colorado education leaders: rethink the state’s education priorities

File photo of student at Marrama Elementary School in northeast Denver. (The Denver Post)

A newly constituted group of educators, lawmakers and state officials led by Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne will be charged with creating a sweeping new strategic plan for education in Colorado.

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order this week giving that task to a reconstituted Education Leadership Council, which formed in 2011 but has become inactive.

The new-look council will identify statewide priorities for how to better educate the state’s children so they can contribute to Colorado’s workforce, according to the order.

In an interview Thursday with Chalkbeat, Lynne said she expects the plan to include recommendations for how the governor’s office, relevant state departments, the legislature or others can work toward the state’s goals.

The group will begin meeting in August and will spend its first year setting priorities. It is supposed to give recommendations for possible legislation by 2018 or 2019.

Lynne said various state departments and groups already work on initiatives tied to education, but “we don’t have a place where we weave it all together.”

For example, Lynne said, the group could examine whether certain districts still need help getting access to the internet, whether students are being introduced to STEM careers early enough and whether graduates are prepared for the workforce.

Having a strategic plan and clear goals for what schools should be accomplishing could also give officials a better chance of changing school finance, Lynne said, if the group determines that is needed. Reports routinely rank Colorado near the bottom in per pupil funding among states.

“I think it’s hard when people want to talk about changing school finance or they want to address things like compensation for teachers, if you don’t have the core foundation of what do we want to achieve and how do we get there,” Lynne said.

Bipartisan legislation introduced this spring would have created a group with similar goals, but Republicans killed the so-called “vision” bill. Critics said the bill would have created more state bureaucracy and potentially conflicted with school districts’ strategic plans, and called it a ploy to ultimately ask taxpayers for more money.

Lynne said the group commissioned by the governor — which will have as many as 25 members — will include a diverse group of people representing different interests across the state to ensure local districts have a say in the statewide work. It will include directors from five state departments, a superintendent, a school board member, a teacher and a principal.

The original Education Leadership Council was commissioned in 2011 by a Hickenlooper executive order. Recently the group stopped meeting. Members’ terms had expired, and excitement had decreased after the 2013 defeat of Amendment 66, which would have raised taxes for schools. The council helped push for the measure.

When Lynne succeeded Joe Garcia as lieutenant governor, she said she knew she wanted to revive the group.

Her office started planning to regroup the Education Leadership Council in late 2016 before the legislature considered the same work, but she said she paused while legislators considered their bill. When that effort failed, Lynne said her office got back to organizing the council.

The group, Lynne said, will work under a shorter timeline than the one outlined in the failed bill.

Rep. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican who sponsored the “vision” bill, said the council is the right avenue for this kind of work.

“The legislature is not suited for long-term strategic thinking,” Rankin said. “It’s more about shorter-term action. This is a better way to do it — with our involvement.”

Sponsors of the vision bill, including Rankin, will be part of the leadership council.

Here is a copy of the executive order:

EO Education (Text)