Shelby County Schools

Several high-performing Shelby County tenured teachers face unemployment as deadline nears

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN
About a dozen Shelby County School teachers stood in solidarity against the district's preferred teacher hiring list and bonus pay plan.

Of the 345 teachers Shelby County Schools administrators laid off this school year, almost a quarter of them are tenured teachers who have met or exceeded the state’s performance expectations, an administrator revealed on Tuesday.

Many of the district’s schools have been designated as failing based on their low test scores and are at risk of being taken over by the state. District officials have identified high-performing and dedicated teachers willing to work in low-income communities for several years as the key resource to improving those schools.

The Memphis-Shelby County Education Association filed a lawsuit last month claiming that the district can’t lay off tenured teachers.

“It is the duty of the superintendent to assign (tenured) teachers” to a position at a school, a visibly irate Keith Williams, the president of MSCEA, said during public comment Tuesday.  “It’s immoral of the board to allow such foolishness to occur.”

Administrators were forced to lay off a large portion of their teaching staff after they closed 10 schools and lost several thousand students to the state-run Achievement School District, new charter schools and six municipalities that split from the district.

Of the 345 teachers who were laid off and still haven’t found new jobs, 150 are tenured, 98 are non-tenured and 97 worked at schools that now belong to new municipal districts that split from SCS, according to Sheila Redick, the district’s director human capital.  Of the 150 tenured teachers, 85 scored level three or above on teacher performance scores and 65 scored below state expectations.

“Superintendent Hopson and my goal was to make sure we retained the best teachers even through all the uncertainty and unknowns, we want to keep our most effective educators in front of the kids,” Redick said in an interview with Chalkbeat before Tuesday’s school board meeting.

Redick said that, in accordance with  Tennessee’s tenure law, tenured teachers who aren’t hired by Monday, June 30, would be placed on a preferred list to be hired before the beginning of the school year. Being on the list doesn’t guarantee a teacher a position. Redick said all employees without a position were informed they were being laid off during a meeting on Tuesday.

The lawsuit filed by MSCEA contends that the burden to place tenured teachers lies with Hopson and his staff.  But Hopson has said they will not continue to pay tenured teachers who haven’t found jobs by June 30.  “We’re following the law,” he said Tuesday.

Myrtle Malone, a high-performing tenured teacher at Gordon Elementary School, has worked with the district for 41 years but was given a letter signed by Hopson this past spring that said she would be out of a job because the district decided to close her school due to millions of dollars worth of maintenance needs and low-enrollment.

Malone could retire, but she wants to keep teaching.

“I’ve applied, but I haven’t heard back from anyone,” Malone said.

She told board members Tuesday that an administrator informed her and several other displaced teachers how to purchase food stamps at a recent meeting.

For the 1,000 teachers who worked at a closing school, the district has held three hiring fairs to help displaced teachers find new employment. Almost 455 teachers attended those fairs.  Redick said they have hired 584 teachers from those schools.

This is the first year the district used a new “mutual consent” policy that requires the teacher and the principal to want to work together. In prior years, principals were forced to hire teachers based off seniority or teachers were placed by senior-level administrators.

“Direct placement of teachers has a negative impact on teacher effectiveness,” Redick said.  “Last year we direct-placed 30 teachers and we tracked their performance and it’s a full point lower than teachers hired by mutual consent.”

Redick said she anticipates another 200 to 400 positions opening in late July due to late retirees, resignations or teachers who didn’t get their licenses renewed. Redick said the district is not taking employee layoffs lightly.

“Our goal is to continue supporting teachers,” Redick said. “Even though June 30 is their last day, it’s absolutely not the last day for opportunities.  This is an ongoing process.  Be active, be engaged.  If there are additional hiring fairs, be sure to attend and sell yourself, use your connections and talk about your performance. Talk about how you’ve moved students to grow and learn.”

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at tcheshier@chalkbeat.org and (901) 730-4013.

Follow us on Twitter: @TajuanaCheshier@chalkbeattn.

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School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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