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.

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