Back to school

Here are seven things to know about Memphis schools as a new school year kicks off

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede

As students start classes Monday at Shelby County Schools, here are seven things to know:

  1. Shelby County Schools is Tennessee’s largest public school district and projects an enrollment of about 107,000 students in 2016-17, down 2 percent from 109,489 in the 2015-16 school year.
  2. The school board and Shelby County Commission approved a $959 million budget for this year, including a 3 percent raise for most teachers.
  3. This year’s new school board will be the same as the old one when newly elected officials are sworn in on Aug. 30. Incumbent Stephanie Love won the only contested race last week, and four other incumbents — Miska Clay Bibbs, Teresa Jones, Scott McCormick and Kevin Woods — ran unopposed.
  4. The district has been recognized as a national leader in closing the achievement gap between students from low-income families and their more advantaged peers.
  5. School closures, eight in all, dominated education headlines last school year in Memphis. This fall, a long-awaited facilities study will present a plan to “right-size” the under-enrolled district so that the number of desks better match the number of students.
  6. Four schools that were with Shelby County Schools last school year are now charter schools under the control of Tennessee’s Achievement School District. The ASD has authority under state law to take over schools in the state’s bottom 5 percent academically. Last year, the state-run district authorized charter operator Scholar Academies to run Caldwell-Guthrie Elementary and Raleigh-Egypt Middle School beginning in 2016-17, while Green Dot Public Schools has converted Hillcrest High and Kirby Middle.
  7. The ASD won’t take over additional schools in Memphis or anywhere else in Tennessee next school year. After the state ran into a myriad of problems with its new standardized TNReady test, the state-run district announced a hiatus year to allow schools to adjust.

Fixing Special Education

Parents finally get an update about special education reform at Chicago schools

PHOTO: Chicago Public Schools

Six months after enumerating how Chicago Public Schools has mishandled the education of special-needs students, the Illinois State Board of Education has issued a letter to parents detailing shortcomings in the program and how parents may seek redress.

The school district will mail the state board’s letter to parents, and hand it out next week during report card pickup, state education board spokeswoman Jackie Matthews said. The letter is posted in Spanish and English on both the district and state websites. You can also read it at the end of this post.

The state probe, launched last fall, found Chicago schools violated students’ rights by routinely delaying and denying services, such as speech and occupational therapy, busing, classroom aides, and placement in specialized outside schools.

The letter encourages parents with questions to contact an independent monitor the state appointed to oversee reforms for three years.

It’s not clear why the state took so long to inform parents about the investigation’s findings or their options. Parents have been complaining they hadn’t heard from school officials about improvements.

In early October, Matthews said that the state was finalizing its letter to parents.

Now the state is working with the district and parent advocacy groups to identify students whose rights were violated and may be eligible for measures “to make these students whole,” as the letter puts it.

It advises parents, “if you believe that your child was harmed by the systemic violations identified in the public inquiry, you may have the right to file for due process or file a complaint with ISBE’s special education division.”

To improve special education services, the letter notes, the state has been training district employees about the investigation, how procedures will change, and their roles and responsibilities in special education.

The state and district are training parents about their rights, including a list of low-cost legal providers who can help parents navigate the legal process.

Read the letter below.


Payroll Data

Online tool shows who makes the big bucks at Chicago schools

PHOTO: Chicago Public Schools
Former Chicago schools CEO Forrest Claypool made at least $246,154 from the district in 2017.

How much is your favorite principal making?

It’s possible to find out: An online tool offers a look at the paychecks brought home by staff, educators and leadership at Chicago Public Schools.

The Better Government Association just redesigned and updated its public salaries database to provide 2017 numbers for more than 500,000 public workers across Illinois, including at local school districts.

The database shows that last year the Chicago school district spent $2 billion on 49,000 employees who made a median salary of $46,124.

Chicago schools’ highest spending department was the Office of Diverse Learner Supports and Services, which runs the special education program.

The database includes salaries as well as overtime, bonuses, benefits and other forms of extra pay. The Chicago Teachers Union contract lists a base salary of about $51,000 for new teachers, with a pension pickup of $3,546 for a total of $54,199 in compensation.

In 2017, the list of individual earners was topped by Denise Joyce Little, who made$325,999 in total compensation, according to the Better Government Association. She retired in August of that year as senior advisor to former district CEO Forrest Claypool, after 40 years of service at the district, and began receiving payments from a more than $140,000 pension.

The second-highest earner was Parkside Community Academy teacher Sharon Stingley, who made $283,579, and Network 5 schools chief Wanda Juareze Washington, with $246,892. In fourth place was now-disgraced district CEO Forrest Claypool, who made $246,154.

Claypool’s successor Janice Jackson has since gotten a raise to go with her promotion, but in 2017 she had the seventh-highest salary with $206,769.

The database lets users explore the distribution of salaries within an agency like the school district, compare salaries in the same department, and compare the payroll of one government agency to another, among other features.

The association compiled the information with help from DataMade, a Chicago-based civic technology company.