Your Chalkbeat voter guide to the 2014 Shelby County Schools board election

Shelby County Schools’ next slate of school board members will be tasked with shifting the district’s priorities from dealing with fracturing into seven municipalities toward boosting the district’s dismal academic record.

With 70 of the district’s 180 schools on the 2012 list of worst-performing schools in the state, board members will have to work with Superintendent Dorsey Hopson to retain the district’s best teachers and get students to read at grade level and graduate on time.

That’s all while balancing a dwindling budget, due to the loss of several thousand students who will attend schools in the state-run Achievement School District, charter schools and the six newly-formed municipal districts. The district’s enrollment will shrink from 150,000 students to an estimated 118,000 students this fall.

Knowing that the faces on the board would likely change, the board extended Hopson’s contract for two years last month. He has already set ambitious academic goals and plans to give laptops to some students and zero in on the district’s graduation rate.

This year’s election day is Aug. 7 with early voting starting July 18. The county commission redrew the school board’s district map in February and added two new seats to represent the unincorporated areas of the county.

Current board members Chris Caldwell,  Shante Avant and William Orgel (running unopposed) are among the 14 candidates running for the board this year.

Chalkbeat TN asked all of the candidates to complete a survey to share their stances on Shelby County Schools’ educational challenges, initiatives and focus areas. Below are their unedited answers. To read their full answers, click on their names below. For more in-depth coverage of this year’s election, revisit our site and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Ongoing Chalkbeat coverage:

School board candidates in focus: suburban Shelby County Schools

As race comes to an end candidates wrap up fundraising, spending

School board candidates in focus: teacher effectiveness

School board candidates in focus: charter schools and the ASD

School board candidates in focus: Common Core

School board candidates in districts 5 and 6 not spending

Candidate Garner-Williams gets union support, Avant gets business support

Shelby County Election Commission falls behind as voting starts

Cohort of business leaders fuel two school board candidates’ campaigns

School board candidates pitch more funding, nap time to fix district

In vote over charter school facilities expansion, candidate Avant abstains

School board candidate Roshun Austin outraises, outspends her opponents to get ahead

From T-shirts to campaign headquarters, Shelby County Schools board candidates spend to get ahead

Stand for Children Endorses 8 candidates

Helpful links:    The new Shelby County Schools voting district map   |    Precinct Finder  |  Early Voting SitesRegister to Vote

 District 1  |  District 3  |  District 5  |  District 6   |  District 7  |   District 8  |  District 9

District 1

Chris G. Caldwell, Incumbent 

Chris Caldwell
Chris Caldwell

Age: 61

Employer/Occupation: Vice President, Raymond James & Associates

Family: Cheryl wife (32 years) Jeremy- 17, Ally- 16, Ryan 13

Education: University of Texas at Austin-Business Administration major- Accounting minor

Why he’s running: To take advantage of the huge opportunity our community has to provide high quality public education – because of the positive impact it will have on the quality of life for everyone.


Freda Garner-Williams

Freda Garner Williams
Freda Garner Williams

Employer/Occupation: Contributing Faculty Walden University

Education: B.A. Education – LeMoyne-Owen College; M.S. Curriculum – University of Memphis; Ed.D. Educational Psychology and Research – University of Memphis

Why she’s running:  I am running for school board to offer a level of educational expertise that is needed on the Board.  Presently, there are no educators on the Shelby County School board.  An experienced educator will offer the perspective needed for developing policy and approving educational materials for the district. My skills include those gained as classroom instructor, district-level administrator, university professor and former school board member.  An effective school board member must possess the ability to communicate across all levels of the community.  My skills gained as parent and parent coordinator will contribute to my success with communicating with the parents within our community as well as others who have no children but do have a keen interest in what is happening within the school district. The skills that I gained as former school board member, especially as Chair of the MCS Board, include the ability to work with others for a common goal.  While there are different districts represented across the Board, a high level of student achievement is the common goal.  School board members must have the ability to collaborate with each other to achieve that ultimate goal.  I have experiences that contribute to my ability to work as a team member as well as team leader. As a school board member, I plan to accomplish the development of effective policy, ensure that there is an effective instructional plan guiding the work of the district, and communicating with the community to gain their much needed support.  I plan to accomplish a stronger parent relations department and a more positive presence across Memphis and Shelby County.  While these are goals that I would like to accomplish, I realize that individually, I cannot accomplish these goals.  My ultimate goal is to work as a team with other board members to accomplish the best for the district.

District 3

Teddy King

Teddy King
Teddy King

Age: 45

Employer/Occupation: Achievement School District

Family: wife, Rashida and children – Ayanna, Dallas, Raphael, Theodore

Education: Memphis State University 1987-89

Why he’s running: A child that spends their entire K-12 educational experience in District 3 has a 100% chance of attending a school on the priority list. I’m running because our community deserves better. Currently, I work for the ASD and support the transformation efforts of 6 schools in District 3. My duties include building and maintaining collaborative relationships with families, community and faith – based organizations to help provide resources and supports to ensure our children’s success in career and life. Prior to joining the ASD, I was an interventionist and coach as Westside Middle. I have advocated for education on the local, state and national level. I plan to support families in becoming stronger advocates of education, work to ensure that resources are distributed in a fair and equitable manner and establish a system-wide standard for academic achievement for all students.

Anthony Lockhart

Anthony Lockhart
Anthony Lockhart

Age: 30

Employer/Occupation: Lowe’s Home Improvement, Human Resource Manager

Family: Patricia Lockhart, Aiden 6, Elliott 2, Elijah 2, Eve (9 months) 

Education: University of Memphis, 2 years.

Previous education experience: PTA president of Lucy Elementary.

Endorsements: Bill Atkins, Pastor of Greater Imanti, Detris Crane, Principal of Lucy Elementary

Why he’s running: I decided to run to make a difference for my four kids. Within the next couple of years all of my children will be in Shelby County schools. So I want to make sure that I do my part as a leader in the community, to enhance the school system and give them the best education possible. That’s the reason I got involved in the PTA. I have good interpersonal skills.  I’m comfortable talking to the parents and listening to their concerns. We did a very good job at Lucy Elementary getting parent involvement. It increased year after year.  I enjoy doing community events, whether I’m participating as a volunteer or organizing them. I got involved after listening to my, who wife is an education professional.  District 3 is the largest district.I’m the only candidate that is familiar with all of the areas having worked in Millington, Lucy, and Memphis. My two opponents both live in the Frayser community. I think it’s important to have a representative that supports the entire community and not just one particular area, so that’s what I think I bring more to the table. I live and work more in the surrounding communities for district 3.

Stephanie Love

Stephanie Love
Stephanie Love
Age: 34
Employer/Occupation: Cosmetologist
Family: T’Andre Love, Ke’Ante Love, Romescia Love and Da’Zyria Love
Education: Millington Central High School (GED), The University of Memphis and Tennessee Academy of Cosmetology (Cosmetology license)
Why she’s running: I am running because I believe I can relate to the people of District 3 and effectively represent their views regarding education on the Shelby County School Board. Some of the skills I will bring to the school board include being an effective listener to the educational needs of school board constituents, the ability to work with colleagues that may have differences of opinion on the issues and being able to effectively communicate challenges and solutions regarding public education.

District 5

Scott McCormick-  Did not respond.

David Winston – Did not respond.

District 6

Shante Avant- Did not respond.

Jimmy Warren -Did not respond.

District 7

Miska Clay Bibbs – Did not respond.

District 8

William Orgel – Did not respond.

District 9

Roshun Austin

Roshun Austin
Roshun Austin

Age: 42

Employer/Occupation: St. Andrew AME Church, Chief Operating Officer and The Works, Inc., Executive Director

Family: Divorced; daughter Lailah, 12

Education:  B.A., Sociology-Anthropology, Middlebury College, 1993 M.A., Urban Anthropology, University of Memphis, 1997

Why she’s running: I am running for the role for several reasons. 1) I have a vested, personal interest in the success of this system. I have a 12 year old who spent the first 6 years of formal education in this system with plans to continue her education for the next 5 years. 2) I hold firmly to the belief that all children deserve access to a quality public education regardless of their socioeconomic status, familial affiliations, gender, ethnic background, or any and all barriers or inhibiting factors. 3) I am uniquely equipped as a long-term community and grassroots leader to serve as a conduit, communicator, and consensus builder.I am qualified as a school member for the following reasons: my background in community service and education illustrate my commitment to public education and student achievement. I understand how to strategically plan and set measurable goals. My professional and volunteer experiences help me to understand the responsibility of fiscal soundness and regular monitoring to ensure continued fiscal health of the district that promotes student achievement. Philosophically, I feel that I must advocate for the best public education of all children for the success of Shelby County and the larger society. With a history in community development and nonprofit board service, I recognize that success requires teamwork and consensus building.

Mike Kernell

Age: 62

Mike Kernell
Mike Kernell

Employer/Occupation: state employee, retired

Family:  wife, Nancy White and children- David Kernell, Isabell Kernell

Education:  Sherwood Elementary, Sherwood Junior High, Messick High School, Senior at University of Memphis, graduation planned in August 2014. (Finishing last course, a senior project, after receiving 4.5 years of credit re-evaluated and returned under the Finish Line Program).

Why he’s running: I want to use my experience to help the new school system, and in turn, help the kids in the community and create a better next generation. As a state legislator, I was the Chair of the TN House Government Operations Committee. I have lots of experience working with many public and private organizations of all sizes, developing budgets and priorities. As Committee Chair, my job was to conduct regular reviews of State rules and regulations, and along with the Office of the Comptroller, conduct Performance Audits of State agencies. School Board District 9 is my home turf. I attended schools in the District and, except for my time in Nashville, have lived here all of my life.

Damon Curry Morris

Damon Curry Morris
Damon Curry Morris

Age: 35

Employer/Occupation: Servicemaster/Customer Service Agent

Family: Children-Christain, Marilyn, James

Education: BA-Political Science (LeMoyne-Owen College); Certified Nonprofit Professional (CNP-Nonprofit Leadership Alliance)

Why he’s running: The purpose of my campaign is to be a voice for the community and children I serve that ordinarily would not have that voice. The skills I have are my tremendous leadership, educational record, and unmatched record with children.  Also, I plan to make sure that I am a voice for people who don’t have that voice for the parents, teachers, and students. My main focus is educational equality for ALL children.

Top 10

From forest preschools to a secret apology, here are Chalkbeat Colorado’s must-read stories of 2018

PHOTO: Ann Schimke/Chalkbeat
Megan Patterson works with children to make a dam in a creek during a recent "forest school" class.

We spend a lot of time at Chalkbeat chasing the news to keep our readers informed about controversial policy changes, fast-moving debates, and late-breaking decisions.

But we also relish the opportunity to dig deep into issues affecting students and families, shine light on innovative ideas, and hear from dedicated educators making a difference. With that in mind, we’ve gathered 10 of our best stories from 2018.

These stories don’t necessarily chronicle the biggest education issues of 2018, from teacher walkouts to unprecedented state interventions. But they are stories we think are important and insightful, and that we enjoyed reporting and writing. We hope you enjoy reading them.

No walls: Forest preschools let kids run free, but can they change to reach diverse families?

One day this past summer, about a dozen children frolicked by a Jefferson County creek — making pretend tea in small metal buckets, and building dams with sticks and mud.

They were students at Worldmind Nature Immersion School, where children spend all their time outside. So-called forest preschools like Worldmind are beloved by many families but face significant regulatory and logistical barriers in expanding their footprint nationwide. Here in Colorado, a pilot program could lead a new kind of child care license designed for them.

And being licensed could help the schools confront another problem: a lack of diversity among their students. Read more.

Colorado was never ranked 46th for teacher pay. Does this change the debate?

It was an oft-cited statistic: that Colorado, despite its booming economy, ranked 46th in the nation for teacher pay. The eye-popping number found its way onto social media posts and signs at massive teacher rallies last spring. News outlets latched on to it, too.

But it was wrong. Colorado was actually ranked 30th in the nation.

Our story breaks down how the mistake happened (hint: a new data system, an unrevised report) — and how groups with different agendas seized on the snafu to score points. Read more.

This is the letter of apology that Adams 14 leaders never sent

The Adams 14 district in Commerce City is arguably the most troubled and low-performing in Colorado. Just last month, state officials directed Adams 14 to hire an external manager to oversee the district’s operations for at least the next four years.

Back in September, Adams 14 officials considered taking a rare step: saying sorry to the community. But an apology letter was never signed nor sent out.

Chalkbeat obtained a copy of the letter, which makes mention of “various and conflicting priorities, coupled with constant turnover and organizational disarray.” Read more.

Rising test scores and dwindling trust: Denver’s Tom Boasberg leaves a complicated legacy

Colorado’s largest school district experienced a big change this year when longtime leader Tom Boasberg announced he would step down after nearly 10 years in Denver Public Schools.

Because of his school improvement strategies — some of which were controversial and heightened tensions with the community — the district that the new superintendent, Susana Cordova, will inherit in January is vastly different than it was a decade ago.

One tangible difference: Schools that once served as anchors of the community but struggled academically have been closed or replaced. That disappearance was on display on one of Boasberg’s last days, when he held his cell phone close to his mouth and enunciated each word so his GPS would understand his direction: “Montbello High School.” Read more.

Parents in one Aurora high school are visiting classrooms and giving teachers feedback

Like many schools in Colorado, Aurora’s Rangeview High School has a test score gap between white and black students. But the assistant principal there came up with a unique way to try to address it: by inviting black parents to visit classrooms and observe how students are — or are not — engaging with the teacher’s lesson, and then provide suggestions for improvement.

“We give true and honest feedback,” said one parent involved, “if they looked or appeared comfortable, how they interacted with the environment, the temperature of the room.”

Although the assistant principal considers the African American Parent Committee an experiment, she said it’s generating uncomfortable but necessary conversations. Read more.

How education reform became a wedge issue among Colorado Democrats this election year

For years, more moderate Democrats, often working in unison with like-minded Republicans, championed education reform efforts ranging from school choice to holding educators accountable for student performance.

But partly because of backlash against President Donald Trump and his education secretary, those strategies no longer fly with many Democrats — especially left-leaning Democrats who see them as undercutting public education and devaluing the work of teachers.

That sentiment was palpable in Colorado’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, and could shape the next legislative session, which starts in January. “Education is the issue that really stands to divide the left in a very substantial way,” one observer said. Read more.

How a Colorado school district turned things around at 10,000 feet above sea level

School improvement efforts look a little different high in the Rocky Mountains. While many of the strategies used by the 1,000-student Lake County school district are familiar to urban settings, they’ve been retrofitted to meet the needs of a district that’s 100 miles west of Denver.

For example, instead of firing teachers and principals who weren’t accelerating student learning fast enough, the district adopted a new curriculum and gave its teachers lots of training.

“The belief that the people are the problem is wrong,” the superintendent said. “Our teachers are professionals, and we believe in them. We’re proving that there is a framework or a pathway for rural schools to improve that’s about building capacity within your own community.” Read more.

7 things to know about how Colorado schools punish their youngest students

After state lawmakers rejected a bill to limit the use of suspensions in the earliest grades, Chalkbeat wanted to know more about the early childhood discipline landscape in Colorado. Data from the Colorado Department of Education revealed several trends.

Among them: Young black boys are suspended at disproportionate rates. Some rural school districts have the highest early childhood suspension rates in the state.

And despite nationwide debate about the impact of harsh discipline on young children and local efforts to bring the numbers down, suspensions in the early grades are actually going up. Read more.

In Denver’s gentrifying neighborhoods, some middle-class parents are avoiding the school down the block

Many neighborhoods in Denver are gentrifying, with middle-class families moving into what have historically been working-class communities. That type of demographic shift could easily lead to neighborhood schools that are more integrated by family income and race.

But that doesn’t always happen in Denver. Instead, data show that wealthier families – more often than low-income families – are using Denver Public Schools’ universal school choice process to send their kids to schools elsewhere in the city.

That’s a problem because research shows integrated schools boost test scores for students from low-income families without lowering the scores of those from wealthier ones. Denver officials want to see those benefits, but allowing parents to choose may be thwarting them. Read more.

Why this Colorado principal hand delivers birthday cards to more than 2,000 students and staff

Northglenn High School Principal Sharee Blunt is Colorado’s 2018 School Principal of the year — but perhaps even more impressive is the enormous number of birthday cards she hand delivers each year. If you’re one of those people who can barely remember your spouse’s birthday, you’ll be floored by Blunt’s annual feat.

In our interview with Blunt, part of Chalkbeat’s “How I Lead” Q&A series with distinguished school leaders, she talks about what she realized after a mother’s emotional reaction, and why she gave a teacher a pass during a lesson that went awry. Read more.

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.