Shelby County Schools

Shelby County board extends Hopson’s contract, shares first evaluation

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.

The Shelby County school board extended superintendent Dorsey Hopson II’s contract for an additional two years after sharing their positive evaluation of his performance during a board meeting on Monday.

The decision to renew Hopson’s contract was both a signal of the board’s confidence in Hopson and a commitment to focus on academics in the coming school year, said board member Teresa Jones. “There was a desire to have continuity,” Jones said.

Hopson’s new contract begins July 1 of this year and will last until June 30, 2018. The previous contract would have expired in 2016. The new contract does not change Hopson’s $269,000 annual salary. Hopson is eligible for a raise whenever district employees receive a raise, though he can also be awarded a bonus by the board. His contract also includes $500,000 in life insurance and a district-provided vehicle.

After the meeting, Hopson said that he hopes to shift the district’s focus toward academics. The board spent almost two years preparing for the merging of the Memphis City school district with suburban Shelby County Schools and responding to suburban leaders’ subsequent plans to create six new districts carved out of the merged Shelby County Schools. The district has also lost a number of its chronically-underperforming schools to a new state-run district. This past spring, Hopson led the district through its largest series of school closings in recent history before cutting more than $200 million from its budget.

“I remain humble,” he said. “Such incredible work has been done.”

Board members said that having this board extend the contract would be beneficial. School board elections later this summer could bring a majority of new members onto the board.

“This board is uniquely qualified,” Jones said. “We have gone from the 23-member board to this seven-member board, and some will go forward to the new nine-member board.”

In his first evaluation, Hopson earned high marks for his ability to get support from community members and other stakeholders and for his calm approach to working through tough issues.

“This is an extremely strong evaluation,” said Henry Evans, a consultant with Germantown-based Centre Group, which conducted the 52-question survey about the superintendent’s performance in several areas.

The main concerns board members raised in the evaluation were that key positions, including chief financial officer and chief academic officer, have been left unfilled; that technology in the district should be improved; and that items to be voted on were not always presented to the board in a timely fashion.

Others have pointed out that Hopson, a lawyer, is not an educator by trade. Several commenters raised that concern at Monday night’s meeting.

“Thanks for your work; now pass it on to an educator,” said Claudette Boyd, a grandparent of Shelby County Schools students. Boyd also raised concerns about the growing state-run Achievement School District and the district’s embrace of charter schools.

“Mr. Hopson did a great job with the merger and demerger because they were legal issues,”  said Valerie Grifith, a citizen who spoke during public comments. “But this isn’t a John Grisham novel. We need an educator.”

National experts have said that a superintendent’s working relationship with the board is as important as their education background, especially in large urban districts. They point out, however, that appropriate academic expertise is necessary within the district.

Board member Chris Caldwell highlighted the fact that Hopson had accepted a contract that does not guarantee him a large “buy-out” if his contract is terminated ahead of schedule. Previous superintendents, including former superintendent Kriner Cash, have received large buy-outs, which concerned some observers of the cash-strapped district.

Board member David Reaves said that though he had been skeptical of having a superintendent without a background in education, he had been won over by Hopson’s “hard skills as an attorney” and “excellent” soft skills.

“We’ve had educators from outside of this area who have failed the school system…I think we need stability,” he said.

Board member Shante Avant said she believed keeping Hopson in his role would allow the district to achieve a lofty set of academic goals recently adopted by the board aimed at increasing the district’s graduation rate and better preparing students for college and careers. “We need someone who can be here for the long haul,” she said.

Board member Jones said, “I do not take lightly the vacant C.A.O. position. But I know we’re making strides to address that…I do not always agree with his recommendations but I separate that from whether I think he’s the person we should support.”

Board member Billy Orgel singled out how calmly Hopson had handled difficulties at the beginning of last school year, when some buses were not running on time. “You didn’t point fingers. That’s leadership,” he said.

Board member Kevin Woods said he felt the superintendent could compensate for his lack of education background. “You’re surrounded by educators,” Woods said. “You’re the right person for this job.”

The six present board members unanimously approved the contract. Board member David Pickler was absent.
Hopson’s new contract:

Hopson’s previous contract:

Part of Hopson’s evaluation:

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?