Teresa Jones, SCS new board chairwoman discusses priorities, goals

Teresa Jones

When Shelby County School Board member Teresa Jones was unanimously voted as the new chairwoman on September 30, she promised to be a hard worker and listen to the views of the newly expanded nine-member board.

Jones initially received an appointment to the 23-member board in 2011 and was elected to serve on the seven-member board in 2012. She represents District 2 and is an attorney for the city of Memphis.

During her year-long appointment as chair, Jones will lead the board’s meetings and navigate decisions that will impact the district’s 7,000 teachers and roughly 113,000 students. In the coming months the board will review the district’s strategic plan, which includes boosting its graduation rate and number of students entering college.

As the district works to retain and recruit quality teachers, the board may also need to weigh in on the district’s new hiring process – mutual consent, which sparked frequent teacher protests at board meetings this year.

Jones answered Chalkbeat TN’s questions about teacher recruitment, the role of the board and her goals moving forward.

Question:  Across the country, many school boards walk the line between being policy focused versus managing the day-to-day operations alongside their employee, the superintendent.  As board chair, how would you advise the board to deal with the challenges facing Shelby County Schools such as improving literacy, the impact and focus of a new Chief Academic Officer and expanding programs that are successful such as the Innovation Zone (iZone)?

Jones:  The superintendent is charged with improving student achievement.  The Board guides and gives input through its evaluation instrument.  Goals and priorities are set within that process that guides the decisions made by Supt. Hopson. Enhancing student achievement and the hiring of a new Chief Academic Officer are priorities.  iZone expansion is primarily driven by funding.  The Board and Supt. will certainly focus on this during the upcoming budget process.

Question:  How can SCS continue to recruit teachers and keep the quality teachers that it currently has?  Are there recommendations or changes that you would advocate?

Jones:  Improving student scores and offering competitive benefits will help maintain and recruit quality teachers.  We are in the process of issuing a RFP with hopes of realizing a reduction in health care costs.  We are also being aggressive in offering support and professional development to all teachers.

Question: What are some recommendations that you’ve given to the superintendent in regards to presentations that require board approval? During previous board meetings, many of your questions regarding outsourcing and other budgeting issues required further research. Have you recommended a change to the presentation process that allows more time for board members to review, research and question what they’re being asked to approve?

Jones: I have asked that presentations include more details, financial breakdown, more solutions/recommendations to the problem.  The Supt. is always responsive and makes every effort to provide answers to all board members’ questions.  Some presentations tend to be informative, but offer very little in terms of solutions.  I have asked him to think outside the box.  Look at legacy (Shelby County Schools) and legacy (Memphis City Schools) and then craft a recommendation that is the best fit for our new district.

Question: What is your position about the expansion of the iZone, should it be expanded or sustained?  If it is sustained only, where are the funds likely to come from?  Would board members play any part in seeking funds for sustaining or expanding the iZone?

Jones: Expansion is crucial to increased student achievement.  Paying for it will take strategic planning and focus use of available funds.  I support iZone expansion, however, we have a number of schools that were not iZone that we saw substantial gains.  I have asked Mr. Leon to do research into best practices at those schools.  How were they able to make considerable gains without the extra financial investment.  The answer could be the basis for formulating a more cost-neutral solution to increased student achievement.  Board members routinely advocate to increased funding when we think appropriate.  iZone advocacy would be no different.  Board members talk to legislators about the BEP (Basic Education Program) and the fact it is not fully funded.  We hope to address that as well as other issues in our upcoming legislative agenda.

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at tcheshier@chalkbeat.org and (901) 730-4013.

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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 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

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.”