School takeover meetings with teachers begin this week; union wants access

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN
M-SCEA President Keith Williams voices opposition to school closures earlier this year during a board meeting.

Memphis-Shelby County Education Association President Keith Williams wants access to informational meetings for teachers working at schools facing takeover by the Achievement School District in the 2015-16 school year.

“We want the time, place and date of those meetings, so we can attend,” Williams said Tuesday, adding that he sent a formal request to Brad Leon, chief of strategy and innovation for Shelby County Schools.

As of Wednesday morning, the association had not received a response. Nor had the district responded to Chalkbeat’s request for information.

Williams said he has several unanswered questions for the district and the ASD, including how many of the schools slated for takeover will be directly run by the ASD or a charter school.

“We need to be at all of the meetings to know what information the teachers are receiving,” Williams said.

Many Shelby County teachers at schools slated for takeover received official letters from the district on Monday explaining that their school was eligible for takeover and eligible for the school matching process. Schools facing takeover have been chronically low-performing for the past three years.

The letter encourages teachers to be a part of the matching process, which involves parents, teachers and members of the community meeting with the charter operators and discussing plans for the takeover school.  Feedback from those meetings is used by the Achievement Advisory Council’s matching recommendations to the ASD.

“All of this helps the ASD make the best decision for kids,” Elliot Smalley, ASD chief of staff said Wednesday.  Smalley said the ASD is part of the faculty meetings at the targeted schools, but the decision about who is invited to those meetings is up to Shelby County Schools.

“Your feedback and participation will help shape recommendations for the ASD. ASD schools are run by public charter school operators, so this matching process gives you a chance to meet the operators and provide input on which one(s) are the best fit if your school is chosen for the ASD,” the letter says.

The letter also says teachers are, “100 percent fundamental in this process. There is a lot of good work to do the rest of the year, and we will be working collectively with you to ensure that you and your students are supported.”

The letter was signed by Leon and Angela Whitelaw, assistant superintendent of schools.

One affected teacher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern for her job, said teachers at her school were surprised to learn they were under consideration for takeover since the school is a considered a Level 5  (the highest ranking) school, based on student growth.

“A lot of teachers are uncertain about what they’re going to do next year,” she said.  “We were like ‘why us?'”

Williams said starting the takeover conversation nine weeks into the new school year is damaging for teacher morale.

“They never announced the school takeover list this early,” Williams said.  “The first report cards haven’t even gone out yet. Now instead of focusing on instruction, teachers at the takeover schools will be thinking about looking for a job, and the academic scores could suffer.”

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at [email protected] and (901) 730-4013.

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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.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.