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.

Teens Take Charge

New York City students and podcasters team up to share stories of inequity in schools

PHOTO: Brett Rawson
Teens Take Charge is a student-led organization that hopes to spark change in schools.

If you ask Sherard Stephens, a senior at Hostos-Lincoln Academy of Science in the Bronx, there are two different types of schools in New York City: There are schools where resources are plentiful and students feel challenged academically. But there are dozens of others that barely provide the basics, and those largely cater to black, Hispanic and poor students.

Stephens and other students like him think it’s time to talk about that, which is why they’ve launched Teens Take Charge. The new group, which includes students from almost every borough, wants to give young people a voice when it comes to issues they know well: what goes on in their own schools.

“It’s all about us talking about the fact that we don’t have the resources to reach the same level of success,” he said.

On Friday, Teens Take Charge will host their first event at the Bronx Library Center. Through letters, storytelling and poetry, students will tackle issues such as segregation and standardized testing. They hope their stories, along with student-moderated discussions, will spark change within their schools.

Called “To Whom it Should Concern,” the event will also feature art work and a photo booth, and will be completely led by students. But they’ve had help along the way from Handwritten, an organization that focuses on the art of writing by hand, along with The Bell, a new podcast created by Taylor McGraw and Adrian Uribarri to highlight student voices.

McGraw teaches writing at Achievement First University Prep High School in Brooklyn and Uribarri works in communications. Their podcast, which launched this month, focuses on school segregation in New York City — more than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision that separate schools for black and white students are inherently unequal.

The podcast was inspired by just a few lines in Chief Justice Earl Warren’s opinion in that case, in which he wrote that segregation “generates a feeling of inferiority” for minority students “that may affect their hearts and minds.”

McGraw wanted to explore the impact that segregation has on students by letting them speak for themselves.

“I want to know: How does it make them think about themselves? How does it make them think about society and their place in it? And then, what’s their response to it?” McGraw said. “So many of the other inequities that we talk about and hear about stem from segregation.”

He hopes to share clips from Friday’s event in an upcoming podcast episode.

For more information about To Whom it Should Concern, click here. To listen to the first episode of The Bell or read more about Teens Take Charge, click here.

maybe next year

Senate Republicans kill bill that would have taken broad look at public education in Colorado

Students at Vista PEAK Exploratory in Aurora work on a math assignment. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

A Republican-controlled state Senate committee spiked a bill Wednesday that was meant to spark a broad conversation about the future of Colorado’s public schools.

Some lawmakers hoped House Bill 1287 would help sell voters on raising taxes to better fund the state’s schools. But the Senate State, Military and Veterans Affairs committee voted 3-2 along party lines to kill the legislation, which would have created a series of committees to examine the state’s education laws and make recommendations for changing them.

Republicans objected to the bill because they didn’t want to create more bureaucracy, and they thought it was a ploy to raise taxes.

The bill’s demise was a defeat for a group of the state’s most authoritative lawmakers on education policy. It was one of the top legislative priorities for state Reps. Millie Hamner, a Dillon Democrat, and Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican. Both serve of the state’s budget committee and rallied lawmakers around the bill.

Rankin called the bill the most important of his legislative career.

“I’m bitterly disappointed, although it was expected,” he said. “I certainly don’t intend to give up. We’ve worked for over three years to move this idea forward. We thought we built a bipartisan coalition that was interested and wanted to help. We thought we were making really good progress.”

Hamner also expressed dismay over the bill’s death.

“To die quietly like that in Senate was really, really surprising and disappointing,” Hamner said. “Do we still have a need to establish a vision for the future of our kids? Yes. Apparently we’re going to have to do that without our Senate majority.”

Last-minute amendments brought by state Sen. Kevin Priola, a Henderson Republican, to address Senate GOP leadership’s concerns could not save the bill.

Supporters of the bill said the legislature needed to step in to help rethink Colorado’s education landscape holistically, not with piecemeal legislation. The state’s laws are outdated and clash with 21st century expectations, they said at Wednesday’s hearing.

“Our current collection of policies and laws have failed to keep pace with changes in expectations of our education system,” said Mark Sass, a Broomfield high school teacher and state director of a teacher fellowship program, Teach Plus. “We need a deliberate and collaborative conversation in our state, as to our vision of education.”

State Sen. Owen Hill, a Republican from Colorado Springs, said he supported the goal of the bill. His name was listed as a sponsor when the bill was first introduced. But he said he eventually concluded the bill was the wrong approach.

“I’m not sure this is the solution to get us there,” he said. “It’s time for us to take a bottom up approach. I get nervous about standing up and staffing and financing another government program.”

After the committee hearing, Sass said Republican lawmakers failed to realize their unique role in Colorado shaping statewide education policy. The state’s constitution gives no authority to the governor, the education commissioner or the State Board of Education to create a strategic plan.

“We need someone to drive this conversation,” he said. “If the legislature won’t, who will?”

Priola said in an interview that he had hoped for more time to lobby Senate leadership and members of the committee. Instead, he said he’d try again next year.

“We live in a state with 178 school districts and thousands of schools,” he said. “There can’t be one way of doing things, but there also can’t be 1,000. There has to be some commonality on what we’re doing and what direction we’re heading.”

Rankin was less committed in trying again next year.

“I want to think about,” he said. “I don’t think this elected, term-limited legislature with the background they come from can develop the kind of leadership needed for this movement.”

The death of House Bill 1287 puts another bipartisan piece of legislation on shaky ground.

House Bill 1340, sponsored by state Reps. Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat, and Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican, would create a committee of lawmakers to study and make changes to the way Colorado funds its schools.

The state House of Representatives was expected to hold its final vote on that bill Wednesday morning. But Democratic leadership pushed the vote by a day.

Some Democrats in the House saw the two bills as a package, while Republicans in the Senate saw them as competing. With partisan rancor flaring in the waning days of the session, House Democrats could return the favor and kill the finance study bill.

Rankin, the House Republican, said he hoped his chamber’s leadership would let the finance study bill move forward. He introduced a similar bill two years ago but was unable to get the bill through the legislative process.

“I think it’s a good idea to take a hard look at school finance. Maybe we can get some dialogue going,” he said, adding that he believes lawmakers still need to think about a strategic plan for its schools.

Hamner, the House Democrat, said she also supported the finance study.

“I think their bill will be just fine,” she said. “Unless the Senate decides to kill it in State Affairs.”