who's who

Here are the players helping to draft Tennessee’s transition plan to the new federal education law

PHOTO: Amanda Lucidon/The White House
President Barack Obama signs the Every Student Succeeds Act in December 2015, surrounded by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and other champions and supporters of the new law.

An array of educators, researchers and advocates will help the State Department of Education plan for a new era in Tennessee education dictated by the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

While most of Tennessee’s existing laws and practices are already in line with ESSA requirements, the law provides flexibility for the state to reinvent, or at least tweak, its education system. Department officials say they’re eager to take that opportunity.

“Tennessee’s schools and students have made tremendous strides over the past few years to become the fastest improving state in the nation,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a press release Wednesday announcing the list of stakeholders. “We believe bringing a broad set of perspectives into that conversation — and ultimately keeping students at the center of every decision — will help us refine and capitalize on what is working.”

The department established six working groups focusing on standards and assessment, accountability, support for English learners, educator support and effectiveness, school improvement, and student support.

Among group members from Shelby County Schools are Chief Academic Officer Heidi Ramirez and Innovation Zone leaders Brad Leon and Sharon Griffin. Achievement School District Superintendent Malika Anderson is also on the list.

In addition to feedback from the six new panels, the Tennessee Department of Education last month launched a new listening tour to gather feedback from educators across the state related to key components of ESSA, as well as a website where the public can provide input on the state’s new plan.

This department will share a draft of the ESSA transition plan for further public feedback in the fall, and finalize it next spring. All provisions of ESSA will go into effect in August 2017.

Here is the list of working group leads and members recruited:

Standards and Assessment

State leads:

  • Laura Encalade, director of policy and research, State Board of Education
  • Nate Schwartz, chief research and strategy officer, Tennessee Department of Education

Working group members:

  • Tracey Beckendorf-Edou, executive director of teaching and learning, Oak Ridge Schools
  • Michael Cohen, president, Achieve
  • Patricia Griggs-Merriweather, principal, Sheffield Elementary, Shelby County Schools
  • Brad Leon, chief of strategy and innovation, Shelby County Schools
  • Cindy Massaro, parent, Rutherford County Schools
  • Mary Cypress Metz, chief of staff, State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE)
  • Philip Oldham, president, Tennessee Technological University
  • Eddie Pruett, director of schools, Gibson County Special School District
  • Robert Sharpe, assistant superintendent, Hamilton County Schools
  • Cathy Whitehead, third-grade teacher and 2015-16 Tennessee Teacher of the Year, West Chester Elementary School, Chester County School System
  • Maria Zapata, family engagement manager, Conexión Américas


State leads:

  • Mary Batiwalla, executive director of accountability, Tennessee Department of Education
  • Nakia Towns, assistant commissioner of data and research, Tennessee Department of Education

Working group members:

  • Lyle Ailshie, director of schools, Kingsport City Schools
  • Ashley Aldridge, principal, Jack Anderson Elementary School, Sumner County Schools
  • Dawn Bradley, special education supervisor, Wilson County Schools
  • Maya Bugg, chief executive officer, Tennessee Charter School Center
  • Karla Coleman Garcia, policy manager, Conexión Américas
  • Corey Kelly, principal, Sherwood Middle School, Shelby County Schools
  • Shawn Kimble, director of schools, Lauderdale County Department of Education
  • Phyllis Nichols, president and chief executive officer, Knoxville Area Urban League
  • Sharon Roberts, chief strategy fficer, State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE)
  • Clint Sattler, supervisor of research and evaluation, Knox County Schools
  • Ronald Woodard, principal, Maplewood High School, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Daniel Zavala, state policy director, StudentsFirst Tennessee

Support for English Learners

State leads:

  • Jan Lanier, director of English learner, immigrant, and migrant programs, Tennessee Department of Education
  • Joann Runion, coordinator of English learner instruction and intervention, Tennessee Department of Education

Working group members:

  • Eben Cathey, advocacy director, Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC)
  • Laura Delgado, program director for Increasing Teacher Diversity, Lipscomb University
  • Nona Hall, Title III director, Rutherford County Schools
  • Dale Lynch, director of schools, Hamblen County Department of Education
  • Gini Pupo-Walker, senior director of education policy and strategic Growth, Conexión Américas
  • Angela Rood, ESL teacher and interventionist, Dyersburg City Schools and Board Member for Tennessee Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages (TNTESOL)
  • Sarah Sandefur, associate professor in the School of Education, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
  • Dana Siegel, ESL teacher, Sycamore Elementary School, Collierville Schools
  • Samantha Singer, English teacher and chair of the English department, John Overton High School, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Kevin Stacy, executive director of the Office of English Learners, Metro Nashville Public Schools

Educator Support and Effectiveness

State leads:

  • Paul Fleming, assistant commissioner of teachers and leaders, Tennessee Department of Education
  • Sylvia Flowers, executive director of educator talent, Tennessee Department of Education

Working group members:

  • Kasar Abdulla, director of community relations, Valor Collegiate Academies, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Robert Blair, president, Greater Nashville Alliance of Black School Educators
  • Bethany Bowman, director of professional learning, Professional Educators of Tennessee
  • Tim Haney, principal, Peabody High School, Trenton Special School District
  • Mark Hogan, professor and Education Department chairman, Belmont University
  • Jeanine Johnson, chief human resources officer, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System
  • Chris Marczak, director of schools, Maury County Public Schools
  • Bill O’Donnell, coordinator of instructional advocacy, Tennessee Education Association
  • Heidi Ramirez, chief academic officer, Shelby County Schools
  • Shannon Streett, sixth-grade English and science teacher, Woodbury Grammar School, Cannon County School District
  • Mike Winstead, director of schools, Maryville City Schools

School Improvement

State leads:

  • Malika Anderson, superintendent, Achievement School District
  • Rita Fentress, director of school improvement, Tennessee Department of Education

Working group members:

  • Tait Danhausen, school director, Cameron College Prep, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Sharon Griffin, iZone regional superintendent, Shelby County Schools
  • Joey Hassell, principal, Ripley High School, Lauderdale County Department of Education
  • Shannon Jackson, executive director of curriculum and instruction, Knox County Schools
  • Beverly Miller, supervisor of curriculum and instruction 9-12, Maury County Public Schools
  • Cardell Orrin, Memphis director, Stand for Children
  • Elaine Swafford, executive director, Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy
  • Greg Thompson, program officer, The Pyramid Peak Foundation
  • Cindy White, principal, Vine Middle Magnet School, Knox County Schools
  • Clarissa Zellars, director of school improvement strategy, Metro Nashville Public Schools

Student Support

State leads:

  • Mike Herrmann, executive director of conditions for learning, Tennessee Department of Education
  • Danielle Mezera, assistant commissioner for college, career, and technical Education, Department of Education

Working group members:

  • Brian Bass, principal, Renaissance High School, Williamson County Schools
  • Laura Brimm, principal, Dyer County High School, Dyer County Schools
  • Nicole Cobb, executive director of school counseling, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Nancy Dishner, president and chief executive officer, Niswonger Foundation
  • Kelly Drummond, chief administrative and human resources officer, Boys and Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley
  • Elaine Jackson, coordinated school health director, Stewart County Schools
  • Troy Kilzer II, director of schools, Chester County School System
  • Theresa Nixon, director of instructional technology, Knox County Schools
  • Greg Wallace, supervisor of safety and mental health, Johnson City Schools

performance based

Aurora superintendent is getting a bonus following the district’s improved state ratings

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

Aurora’s school superintendent will receive a 5 percent bonus amounting to $11,820, in a move the board did not announce.

Instead, the one-time bonus was slipped into a routine document on staff transitions.

Tuesday, the school board voted on the routine document approving all the staff changes, and the superintendent bonus, without discussion.

The document, which usually lists staff transfers, resignations, and new hires, included a brief note at the end that explained the additional compensation by stating it was being provided because of the district’s rise in state ratings.

“Pursuant to the superintendent’s contract, the superintendent is entitled to a one-time bonus equal to 5 percent of his base salary as the result of the Colorado Department of Education raising APS’ district performance framework rating,” the note states.

The superintendent’s contract, which was renewed earlier this year, states the superintendent can receive up to a 10 percent bonus per year for improvements in state ratings. The same bonus offer was in Munn’s previous contract with the district.

The most recent state ratings, which were released in the fall, showed the state had noted improvements in Aurora Public Schools — enough for the district to be off the state’s watchlist for low performance. Aurora would have been close to the five years of low-performance ratings that would have triggered possible state action.

“I am appreciative of the Board’s recognition of APS’ overall improvement,” Superintendent Munn said in a statement Wednesday. “It is important to recognize that this improvement has been thanks to a team effort and as such I am donating the bonus to the APS Foundation and to support various classroom projects throughout APS.”

This is the only bonus that Munn has received in Aurora, according to a district spokesman.

In addition to the bonus, and consistent with his contract and the raises other district employees will receive, Munn will also get a 2.93 percent salary increase on July 1. This will bring his annual salary to $243,317.25.

At the end of the board meeting, Bruce Wilcox, president of the teachers union questioned the way the vote was handled, asking why the compensation changes for teachers and compensation changes for other staff were placed as separate items on the meeting’s agenda, but the bonus was simply included at the bottom of a routine report, without its own notice.

“It is clear that the association will unfortunately have to become a greater, louder voice,” Wilcox said. “It is not where we want to be.”

Movers & shakers

Memphis native named superintendent of Aspire network’s local schools

PHOTO: Aspire Public Schools
Aspire Public Schools has named Nickalous Manning to its top job. Previously, Manning was a Memphis City Schools principal.

Aspire Public Schools has named Nickalous Manning to its top job.

Manning will replace Allison Leslie, the founding superintendent of the charter network’s Memphis schools. She is leaving for Instruction Partners, an education consulting firm that works with school districts in Tennessee, Florida, and Indiana.

“I look forward to serving children and families in my hometown,” said Manning, who was previously Aspire’s associate superintendent, director of curriculum and instruction, outreach coordinator, and principal of its Aspire Hanley Elementary.

Aspire runs three elementary schools and one middle school in Memphis.

Manning said he hopes to focus on Aspire’s role in supporting students outside the classroom and to launch a community advisory board, composed of parents and neighborhood residents, to “make sure that the community has a voice.”

“We know that we need to support our children in more than just academics,” he told Chalkbeat.

In Memphis, most students who attend Aspire schools come from low-income neighborhoods. At its four local schools, the charter group serves about 1,600 Memphis students.

Manning, who holds a doctorate in education, is a graduate of Memphis’ Melrose High School, which sits less than two miles from two Aspire schools. Before joining the network, he worked as a teacher and administrator in the Memphis City Schools and served as principal of Lanier Middle School, which closed in 2014 due to low enrollment.

In a statement, Leslie praised Manning’s commitment to the network’s students, saying,“I am looking forward to seeing Dr. Manning continue the great work we started together and make it even better.”

Aspire was founded in California in 1998 and runs 36 schools there. The charter network was recruited to Memphis to join the state-run district in 2013 — the organization’s only expansion outside of California.

In Memphis, Aspire opened two schools in 2013 and grew to three schools the following year. That’s when it opened Coleman Elementary under the state-run district, before switching course in 2016 and opening Aspire East Academy, a K-3 elementary school under the local Shelby County Schools.

This year, the charter network applied with Shelby County Schools to open its second a middle school, in Raleigh, in 2019. Though the application was initially rejected, Manning it would be resubmitted in the coming weeks, before the district’s final vote in August.

The proposed middle school harkens back to a dispute between Shelby County Schools and the state Department of Education over the charter’s legal ability to add grades to its state turnaround school. If approved, the state could create a new school that would be under local oversight.

“We are deeply committed to our children and families,”  Manning said. “We’ve heard from our families that they want continuity in K–8th-grade in their child’s time in schools. We’re committed to that end.”