Shelby County Schools

Shelby County board considers teacher and leader, nursing contracts

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has overseen Shelby County Schools since the 2013 merger of Memphis City Schools and the legacy Shelby County district.

 Shelby County Schools board members discussed at a work session on Tuesday whether contracts for some components of its teacher evaluation and professional development programs were the best use of the district’s resources.

The bulk of the contracts are ongoing agreements for programs the district has been using for years. But board members wondered whether some of the programs, including Tripod surveys provided by Cambridge Education and an online professional development video library provided through Teachscape, Inc., are actually effective and being used by teachers and district staff.

The Tripod survey counts for five percent of Shelby County teachers’ evaluations. Students in kindergarten through 12th grade are surveyed about classroom climate and teacher effectiveness several times each year. Board members were skeptical about whether the survey is effective, and whether it is worth a $635,000 contract. “Is there not some other way to do that?” asked Billy Orgel.

Some teacher groups, including the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, have questioned the accuracy of the survey and said it is inappropriate to have students make high-stakes decisions about their decisions. District chief innovation officer Bradley Leon said research has shown that the survey tends to line up with other measures of teacher quality.

Board member David Reaves then asked Leon why, if the survey is so useful, it is worth just five percent of a teacher’s evaluation. Leon said that the five percent target had been reached with the help of the Memphis Shelby County Education Association. He said other districts include student feedback as between five and 15 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

Leon said the district could consider using a different, less-expensive survey, but that would require approval from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which specified that funds be used for Tripod as part of a major grant for the district’s Teacher & Leader Effectiveness program. (Chalkbeat also receives some funds from the Gates Foundation.)

Meanwhile, the $415,000 contract with Teachscape allows teachers to upload videos of their teaching. Teachers can choose—but are not required—to have videos used in their evaluations. Some principals in the district use the program so they can, for instance, share best practices teaching math or English language arts Common Core lessons. Teachscape has been in use since 2009, when it was piloted as part of the Gates-funded Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project.

Leon told board members that 5,000 videos of Shelby County teachers teaching had been uploaded, and 9,000 videos had been viewed this year.

Reaves said, “if this is a key tool we’re using, I don’t understand why we’re not requiring every teacher to use it [as part of their evaluation].”

Superintendent Dorsey E. Hopson II said that some teachers did not want to have the videos as part of their evaluations. “In the spirit of making sure people can use it and feel safe, we haven’t necessarily required it. We have to change the culture so people don’t feel like this is a punitive measure.”

Reaves also questioned whether the number of views and videos actually represented significant usage. The district had some 9,000 teachers overall this year, but some teachers may have uploaded multiple videos. “Can we actually make it part of our culture? If people aren’t using it, I will not vote for it.”

Orgel asked district staff to share with the board how many teachers were actually using the program, and how those teachers were ranked on the district’s evaluation system before next week’s meeting.

Board members will also vote next week on contracts with Curriculum Associates and Renaissance Learning to screen students in the district in math and in reading; with K-3 Reading Foundations to train teachers in reading; with My Learning Plan for systems to evaluate online educators; with Insight Education Group to train teacher observers; and with the Center for Educational Leadership for training for instructional leadership developers.

School nurses and facilities questions

In other actions, board members also previewed and discussed a slew of other contracts related to facilities and health issues that it will vote on at its business meeting next Tuesday.

The board will also vote next week on a $1.9 million contract with Well Child to provide 42 nurses to the district. Shunji Woods, the district’s director of coordinated school health, described the district’s overall distribution of nurses to board members.

The district has 166 nurses overall. The majority focus on working with children with disabilities or chronic health conditions, while others, including the contracted nurses, deal with chronic issues like allergies or diabetes at the school level. The contracted nurses will be assigned to five schools each, and will visit one school each day of the week.

Board chair Kevin Woods said that having quality nurses in schools ties to the district’s so-called “80-90-100 plan,” which is focused on raising student achievement and graduation rates in the district.

Shunji Woods said the high rates of absence due to chronic health issues like asthma might be alleviated by proper management encouraged by school nurses.

Board chair Woods suggested that the district consider expanding the number of nurses in its schools next year. The municipal school districts plan to have one school nurse per school.

The fate of several closed schools in the district was also discussed on Tuesday. Hopson told the board that two separate charter schools have expressed interest in the former Lanier Middle school building. He said the board may meet before July to determine which school will go in the building.

The board will vote next week on whether to approve contracts with a number of architects, including one to design a new building for the former Westhaven Elementary School. Board members also discussed plans to revisit the district’s list of contractors and providers to make sure it is up-to-date and includes woman- and minority-owned businesses.

Contact Jaclyn Zubrzycki at jzubrzycki

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call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”