Shelby County Schools

After shuffling, SCS administrators reduce teacher layoffs by 178

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has overseen Shelby County Schools since the 2013 merger of Memphis City Schools and the legacy Shelby County district.

Shelby County Schools is now cutting 42 teaching positions, not the initial 220 that it estimated earlier this week, administrators said in a board meeting Thursday. Those teachers will be able to apply for 37 new teaching positions the district created using funds from a federal grant.

The cuts are in response to enrollment numbers that are well below the 117,000 students the district had estimated would come to school, according to Dorsey Hopson II, the district’s superintendent. At this point, Shelby County has closer to 113,000 students and some 7,000 teachers, district officials said. An additional 10,000 Memphis students are attending charter schools, and 6,500 attend schools in the state-run Achievement School District. Schools receive state funding based on enrollment figures that are taken after the 20th day of the school year.

At the same time, the district is creating 37 new teaching positions, most of them in reading or literacy, funded with leftover money from a federal Race to the Top grant. Although the grant period ended July 1, the district received a waiver from the state to continue approved work with the remaining funds. Shelby County has $5 million left earmarked specifically for turning around low-performing schools and promoting effective teachers and leaders, among a few other categories.

The district will hold a hiring fair for all open positions for excessed staff on Monday.

At a meeting of the district’s board’s Budget and Finance committee meeting Thursday, Hopson said that while approximately 1,500 of the students were estimated to have gone to the new school districts in the Memphis suburbs, 2,500 students expected to enroll the district simply have not appeared this year. “We think some may have gone to DeSoto (Miss.),” Hopson said. “We think a significant portion are just not in school.”

The district also plans to cut six assistant principal positions, six counselor positions, and 17 clerical positions.

Hopson said the cuts would be concentrated in schools that had serious mismatches in staff and enrollment. At Vollentine Elementary, which was supposed to take in students from nearby Klondike Elementary, now an ASD-run charter school, he said that three second grade teachers had classes of 11 students each. The school will cut one of those teachers.

He said that other cuts would be determined partly based on teachers’ scores on their evaluations.

“We really dug deep to make sure these cuts aren’t going to have an adverse affect on schools,” said Hopson.

Some schools were able to stave off cuts. Sharpe Elementary principal Gary Zimmerman said that after he received his projected student enrollment report, he sacrificed a much-needed reading specialist position and moved that teacher into a first-grade classroom.

“Every principal received the report. Some of us gained or lost a teacher, and some were able to maintain current staff,” he said.

Hopson said that not all of the 37 new positions would be matches for the qualifications of the 42 teachers whose jobs are being cut.

“Those positions will be mostly be in priority schools, schools with efficiency issues, schools that need gap closures and schools that have been rated level 1 or level 2 [the lowest scores on the state’s accountability system] for years,” Hopson said. “We’re going to deploy those teachers strategically.”

It is unclear how the district will sustain the new positions after the money is gone and as the district continues to experience drops in enrollment.

All teachers, including those being excessed, will receive bonuses based on their evaluation scores from last year in October.

Memphis-Shelby County Education Association president Keith Williams was surprised to learn the district reduced the number of teachers facing layoffs Thursday evening.

“It’s encouraging news, but we want to know if the teachers who’ve been waiting on the re-employment list can also take part in Monday’s fair,” Williams said. “They have been waiting to find positions as well.”

The district’s excessing guidelines require a principal ensure the school stays within state-mandated class-size requirements and provides all classes necessary for a student to graduate.

The district has gone through several rounds of job cuts in the past year. Close to 50 teachers are still on the district’s re-employment list, according to the M-SCEA. The M-SCEA filed a lawsuit arguing that tenured teachers should be placed in positions before other candidates and should not have to interview for a job.

At Thursday’s meeting, Hopson said that the district is likely to have some extra funds by the end of this coming year, due to reduced facilities costs after school closings and because so many staff resigned to work in the new municipal districts. He suggested the district might make a one-time payment to teachers to help them with health insurance payments. The board and the county would need to approve any use of those funds.

Board members suggested that the district act quickly to create a committee or work with local organizations and the justice system to identify where the missing students are and to encourage them to come back to school.

Board member Chris Caldwell also presented an update on the governor’s committee on BEP, the state’s funding formula for schools. He said that the committee recommended giving teachers around the state raises of either $5,000 or $10,000 in 2015-16. The state’s legislature would have to vote on that change.

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.”