Future of Schools

Mayoral candidate Joe Hogsett on education in his own words

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Democrat Joe Hogsett announced a run for mayor last month at the Landmark for Peace monument in King Park.

Chalkbeat recently interviewed Democratic mayoral candidate Joe Hogsett about his views on education in the city. Read more about the interview here and reaction here.

Hogsett touched on a wide range of issues in his first major interview about education. Here is more of what he had to say on some key issues:

On the role of the mayor in education

Joe Hogsett
Joe Hogsett

“The authority of the mayor, but for mayoral sponsored charter schools, over the day-to-day delivery of public education is indirect. I respect that.”

“I would not be a complainer, not a second guesser, not an armchair quarterback, but be available to visit classrooms and attend choir concerts, band contests, sporting events … to convene and listen to principals and administrators about how things are going. I’d want to promote IPS and other public school corporations around the community, so the good things they are doing are acknowledged. And that their failures, to the extent that those unfortunately occur, are recognized and dealt with.”

On the importance of IPS

“IPS has its fair share of problems. Absolutely. Has it been of some duration? I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. The same types of challenges IPS has faced, perhaps for a longer period of time, are manifesting themselves in other school corporations as well.”

“For any leader to focus exclusively on IPS and not spend as much time with other school corporations, paying as much attention to them as one does IPS, you are giving short shrift to what may be a challenge for the townships as well.”

On the current state of IPS

“We have three newly elected school board members to go along with those who remain. We have a reasonably new, and very well respected, leader in Dr. (Lewis) Ferebee, who I have met with now on several occasions.”

On money in IPS race

“The amount of money involved in elections bothers me across the board. This is not a new problem. Maybe we should be troubled that it’s now moved to the level of school board races. But I think that the involvement of large sums of money, large contributors at any level, is always a chronic challenge.”

“You have to balance that against the constitutional principles of free speech and the series of cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court that limits Congress and other legislative bodies from bringing what I would consider to be a little more sanity to the process.”

“It is troubling but I wish I had the answer. I don’t. As long as we have the First Amendment people have the right to contribute in disclosable ways. Let the people know the facts, as Lincoln used to say, and the people will be saved.”

On IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee

“I have already offered to Dr. Ferebee to help him personally. All he needs to do is ask. If I’m elected mayor, he and I will engage in a very close working relationship and maybe even a partnership in furtherance of the betterment of IPS.”

“My sense is Dr. Ferebee is available and open-minded. He is progressive. I have found him to be very thoughtful. He is courageous. He hasn’t shied away from controversy, probably much to his chagrin from time to time. These are tough decisions, but you have to have people who are willing to make tough decisions.”

“I do intend to be the kind of mayor who is fully engaged with the superintendent, with principals, with teachers and hopefully with parents and students and other stakeholders so that at least I have a good sense of, and appreciation for, the unique challenges neighborhoods or communities face.”

On charter school accountability

“If a mayoral sponsored charter school is failing, it needs to be held accountable. Nobody wants anyone to fail. They need to improve. They need to get better. If they’re given opportunity to be forewarned, and an opportunity to change, and no progress being made in terms of outcomes, then they need to be closed.”

On city support for preschool tuition for poor families

“I am supportive of the mayor’s preschool proposal. I did take issues with his property tax increase. I am glad the compromise reached funds that program adequately without a tax increase on citizens of Marion County. But I don’t think it can be sustained. That’s why I encouraged our governor and legislature to seriously consider expansion of their pilot program and ultimately put the state in a position so pre-K can be funded from state resources as soon as is reasonably possible.”

March for Our Lives

Memphis students say Saturday protest is not just about school shootings. It’s about all gun violence.

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post
A student at Columbine High School holds a sign during a protest of gun violence, on March 14, 2018 in Littleton, Colorado.

Students marching Saturday in Memphis against gun violence say they are not only protesting the shootings that killed 17 people last month at a Florida high school. They also are speaking out against shootings that happen daily in their own city.

Seventeen-year-old John Chatman says he fears school shootings, but he especially fears the common gun violence in his neighborhood of South Memphis. He has lost close friends to shootings.

“It can happen anywhere, anytime,” Chatman said. “I think [this march] is a great stand. We should protest against school shootings. But we have to talk about what kids like me are seeing in Memphis on the daily.”

Memphis had 200 homicides in 2017, down from 228 the previous year, the deadliest year recorded in the city in two decades.

Chatman is one of hundreds of Memphians expected to participate in this weekend’s March for Our Lives event as part of a nationwide protest sparked by the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The largest march will be in Washington, D.C., where up to a half million protesters are expected, but smaller demonstrations are planned in cities and towns across the nation. In Tennessee, other marches are slated for Jackson, Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Clarksville, Cookeville, and Johnson City.

The Memphis march will start at 10 a.m. at Claiborne Temple, and Savanah Thompson will be there. One of more than a dozen student organizers, she worries that news about people getting shot has become commonplace.

“Being in Memphis, you get used to hearing about gun violence,” said Thompson, a freshman at White Station High School. “This affects the youth in our city. … We never want a school shooting to happen in Memphis or anywhere ever again.”

Alyssa Kieren, a student leader at Collierville High School, hopes the march fosters a sense of unity.

“We’re trying to stress that this isn’t a partisan issue,” Kieren said. “We have to acknowledge there is a problem and we have to come up with solutions. … The thing we’re upset about is that children are dying in our schools, and they’re dying in our city.”


Memphis candidate no longer in running to lead Achievement School District

The only Memphis applicant to lead Tennessee’s school turnaround district is no longer under consideration.

Keith Sanders told Chalkbeat Thursday that Education Commissioner Candice McQueen called him with the news that he would not advance in the application process to become superintendent of the Achievement School District. Sanders is a Memphis-based education consultant and former Memphis school principal who most recently was chief officer of school turnaround at the Delaware Department of Education.

The state later confirmed that Sanders will not advance, citing concerns from the search firm hired to find the next leader of the turnaround district.

In a March 21 letter to McQueen, the search firm highlighted Sanders’ time as a charter school leader in New Orleans as a reason he should not advance. Sanders co-founded Miller-McCoy Academy, an all-boys public school that closed in 2014. The school was academically low-performing, and Sanders and his co-founder left the school before it shuttered amidst allegations of financial mismanagement and cheating, according to the letter.

“Given the visibility of the ASD role, I think there are too many questions about his time at Miller-McCoy for him to be credible,” wrote Mollie Mitchell, president of The K-12 Search Group, in the letter.

The announcement comes a day after Stephen Osborn, a finalist for the position, visited Memphis for a second time to meet with local stakeholders. Osborn is currently the chief of innovation for Rhode Island’s Department of Education.

Sanders said he was shocked to be eliminated, as just weeks earlier he was told that he would advance as one of two finalists.

“I was given an itinerary for two days next week for my final interview process,” Sanders said. “I’m shocked that I’ve been suddenly and abruptly removed from this process. I want to be clear in this community I reside in — I did not withdraw.”

In addition to Sanders and Osborn, other candidates under consideration are Brett Barley, deputy superintendent for student achievement with the Nevada Department of Education, and Adam Miller, executive director of the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice at the Florida Department of Education.

McQueen emphasized during her Memphis visit on Wednesday that the superintendent search is still in progress.

“We certainly have an expectation that we’ll bring in others,” she told reporters. “At this point, we wanted to move one forward while we’re continuing to solicit additional information from the search firm on current candidates as well as other candidates who have presented themselves over last couple of weeks.”

The new superintendent will succeed Malika Anderson, who stepped down last fall after almost two years at the helm. Kathleen Airhart, a longtime deputy at the State Department of Education, has served as interim leader.

The job will require overseeing 30 low-performing schools, the majority of which are run by charter organizations in Memphis.

Editor’s note: We have updated this story with comment from the Tennessee Department of Education.