Shelby County Schools

Shelby County Schools wants to bring accountability, kindergarten-readiness to city’s Head Start program

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN
Students at Sharpe Elementary.

Shelby County Schools administrators said Tuesday they will use their control of the city’s Head Start program to emphasize reading skills, teacher accountability and kindergarten readiness for low-income Memphis children under five.

The board on Tuesday accepted $33 million in federal and state grants to take over the area’s Head Start program which serves around 5,000 low-income students educational, health and social services throughout the day. That’s 2,000 students more than Shelby County served when it ran the program last year.

“We have a unique opportunity to place high, rigorous standards in our early childhood programs…” Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II said Tuesday.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell declined to apply for the funds this year because he said that most Head Start programs are run by non-profits or people who are experts in working with students, according to the blog Smart City Memphis.
Luttrell also said that too much Head Start money was going to employee benefits and a new provider would be able to put more of that money in the classroom.
Both Porter-Leath, which served 640 students for the county under the previous Head Start contract, and Shelby County Schools submitted proposals to take over the contract which began on July 1.
Some pre-K advocates have suggested that Shelby County Schools will have more incentive to prepare their students for the academic demands of kindergarten than the county did.
School officials say fewer than 30 percent of students in Shelby County enter kindergarten prepared for school. A referendum to expand pre-K last November lost, in part due to criticisms that a sales tax disproportionately falls on the poor and that the revenues might be used to lower the property taxes of the rich.
Around 8,000 children in Shelby County are eligible for Head Start, meaning 3,000 will still go unserved this year, an area of concern for administrators.

Superintendent Hopson said Tuesday that the Head Start grant gives the district the opportunity to place high, rigorous standards in more early childhood programs and select better contractors to oversee some of the classes.

Along with its already-existing voluntary pre-K classes, the district will now offer more than 100 early education classes by this fall, some that will be operated by contracted partners including Kindercare, Kiddie College and Great Adventures. The district also uses money out of its operating budget and from the Federal Race to the Top grant to pay for pre-K classes. Those pots of money have been strained in recent years.

DeAnna McClendon, the district’s Early Childhood Program Manager said all Head Start classes this fall will look more similar to the district’s K-12 academic programs and have a stronger emphasis on reading and higher standards for pre-K teachers. Officials on Tuesday showed board members a rubric in which students will be measured on their language and reading acquisition throughout the year.

McClendon also said the district would hire additional positions to assure program quality including a data compliance advisor and assistant, an education analyst, a strategic initiatives manager and three early childhood instructional advisors.

Some of the county’s approximately 350 Head Start workers attended last month’s board meeting amid concerns that they could lose their jobs or suffer a reduction in benefits.

But Netra Weatherby, a Head Start family services advocate said she was told teachers would still have their jobs at the same rate of pay. Weatherby thanked Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II after Tuesday’s meeting.

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at [email protected] and (901) 730-4013.

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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.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.