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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What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.