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 and (901) 730-4013.

Follow us on Twitter: @TajuanaCheshier@chalkbeattn.

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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.”