Shelby County Schools

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

PHOTO: Oliver Morrison

From providing more parental resources to holding budget meetings with the county commission, nine of the 14 Shelby County Schools board candidates shared how they would prioritize the district’s needs during a forum Monday night at First Baptist Church in the Binghampton neighborhood.

More than 60 people attended the event, which was hosted by Black Alliance for Educational Options and its partners Students First and Tennessee Federation for Children. Chalkbeat TN Bureau Chief Daarel Burnette II moderated the forum.

Chalkbeat TN staff provided attendees with a voter’s guide and asked candidates to share what their priorities would be, if elected, and how they would implement it.

Early voting begins on July 18 and election day is Aug. 7.

The following is a round-up of tweets from the event.

Mike Kernell

Kernell said he would advocate for careful budgeting and meetings with the county commission.

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PHOTO: Oliver Morrison

Roshun Austin

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PHOTO: Oliver Morrison

Damon Morris 

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Freda Garner-Williams

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PHOTO: Oliver Morrison

Shante Avant

Shante Avant said if re-elected, her priority will be addressing academic achievement and creating an employable workforce for the community.  Her challenger Jimmy Warren was not present.

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PHOTO: Oliver Morrison

Stephanie Love

In the three-candidate District 3 race, Love was the only candidate to participate in the forum. Teddy King and Anthony Lockhart did not attend. Love told voters that if elected, her priority would be to improve parental involvement and implement comprehensive services for parents and students within the schools. 

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Chris Caldwell

Chris Caldwell wants to focus on closing the achievement gap and increasing student achievement while also giving principals more autonomy to make school-based decisions.

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PHOTO: Oliver Morrison

David Winston

David Winston says he is running because he wants to be the voice of parents and to see programs that benefit students.  His challenger Scott McCormick did not attend the forum.

Miska Bibbs 

Unopposed District 7 candidate Miska Clay Bibbs said her top priority is closing the achievement gap, more opportunities for pre-kindergarten and support for teachers.

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PHOTO: Oliver Morrison

Kim Wilson Bond

Kim Wilson Bond, a District 8 voter who was wearing a Freda Garner-Williams shirt, asked candidates how they plan to ensure that minority-owned businesses have equal access to school-based contracts.  “The issue is important. More minority businesses need to be involved (in the bidding process).  I’m looking forward to having better diversity on the board and we need more educators on the board.”

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Sydney Harris

Sydney Harris, 12, asked the candidates why, when people think of school boards, they think of politics not parents. She says her mom, Carra Powell, has been involved in her own education but is sending her and her two siblings to private schools next year.

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Jada Cowen

Jada Cowen, 18, asked how education has changed since Williams graduated from local schools. “It was a better environment then and now children don’t have the resources or help that they need to have the best education possible,” is what Cowen remembered from Williams’ response. “I wish they would focus more on increasing the budget for public school education,” Cowen said.

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PHOTO: Oliver Morrison

Cowen graduated from Trezevant High School this year and will attend Tennessee State University in the fall.

Kamilah Turner

Kamilah Turner asked the candidates what they are going to do to improve graduation rates. “As a criminal defense lawyer it’s mind boggling the number of people in the criminal system who have not graduated from high school,” Turner said.

The candidates gave a variety of solutions, such as focusing on pre-K or returning to old school methods of schooling, including nap time and exercise.

“I would have liked to have heard a plan that someone had,” Turner said, “That someone thought about ahead of time, something a little more cohesive.”

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 Teddy King, Anthony Lockhart, Scott McCormick, Jimmy Warren, Billy Orgel

Contact Oliver Morrison at omorison@chalkbeat.org and (206) 643-9731. Follow us on Twitter: @ORMorrison, @chalkbeattn. Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chalkbeattn. Sign up for our newsletter for regular updates on Tennessee education news: http://tn.chalkbeat.org/newsletter/

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