lighten the load

More planning, less paperwork ahead for Memphis teachers under switch to new curriculums

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson greets a third-grade teacher on the first day of school at Bruce Elementary School in Memphis.

Reacting to complaints, the Shelby County Schools administration will lift a few tasks from teachers to help them make the transition to new curriculums that more closely align lessons with Tennessee’s new math and English standards.

The changes, which Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said came from a meeting last week with teacher leaders, include more planning time, less paperwork and more professional development focused on modeling lessons.

“It’s very clear to me now that we simply have not done the best job possible supporting you and equipping you to be successful in this instructional shift,” Hopson said in an email to teachers. “We have to do better, and I’ve made it a personal priority to ensure that we are.”

Since the instructional shift, Hopson has challenged teachers to get on board with steep changes to curriculum to boost lagging test scores. Teachers have said it’s not just the shift but what they see as unnecessary busy work on top of it.

“They’re telling me, ‘how could people who used to teach not understand how to give me this in a different way that won’t create more work for me?’ ” said school board member Teresa Jones to Hopson and members of his cabinet last week. “It’s not that they don’t want to shift, it’s that they feel like the administration is asking them to shift in the most difficult way possible.”

In the email, Hopson promised teachers:

  • Collaborative planning support should take place in professional learning coach meetings
  • Remove the weekly lesson planning template from Eureka (the math curriculum) and Expeditionary Learning (the English curriculum). Teachers will still be required to annotate.
  • Dedicate at least one faculty meeting per month to content lesson planning.
  • Provide model lessons implemented by other teachers and offer more variety of professional development sessions to accommodate teacher schedules, including live and virtual sessions at multiple times.
  • Provide example lesson plans for high school end of course test subjects beginning in the second quarter
  • Provide weekly meaning-based guide for teachers in grades 9-12
  • Exclude administrator feedback on instructional planning guides from the district’s online tracker for professional development.
  • He and Chief of Schools Sharon Griffin would communicate more regularly to clarify and reinforce expectations and next steps.
  • Hold biweekly collaboration sessions among district leaders, teachers and union representatives

Tikeila Rucker, president of the United Education Association of Shelby County, attended the teacher meeting last week and praised Hopson for his efforts.

“This is a huge win for teachers and the UEA,” she said. “We appreciate Superintendent Hopson and his team for showing us they are listening through their actions.”

Below is the full text of Hopson’s email:

Detroit week in review

Week in review: The state’s year-round scramble to fill teaching jobs

Miss Michigan Heather Heather Kendrick spent the day with students at the Charles H. Wright Academy of Arts and Science in Detroit

While much of the media attention has been focused this year on the severe teacher shortage in the main Detroit district, our story this week looks at how district and charter schools throughout the region are now scrambling year-round to fill vacant teaching jobs — an instability driven by liberal school choice laws, a decentralized school system and a shrinking pool of available teachers.

The teacher shortage has also made it difficult for schools to find substitutes as many are filling in on long-term assignments while schools try to fill vacancies. Two bills proposed in a state senate committee would make it easier for schools to hire retirees and reduce the requirements for certifying subs.  

Also, don’t forget to reserve your seat for Wednesday’s State of the Schools address. The event will be one of the first times in recent years when the leader of the city’s main district — Nikolai Vitti — will appear on the same stage as the leaders of the city’s two largest charter school authorizers. For those who can’t make it, we will carry it live on Chalkbeat Detroit.

Have a good week!

– Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

STATE OF THE SCHOOLS: The State of the Schools address will pair Vitti with the leaders of the schools he’s publicly vowed to put out of business, even as schools advocates say city kids could benefit if the leaders of the city’s fractured school system worked together to solve common problems.

LOOKING FOR TEACHERS: The city’s teacher shortage mirrors similar challenges across the country but the problem in Detroit is exacerbated by liberal school choice policies that have forced schools to compete with each other for students and teachers.

Hiring efforts continue at Detroit’s main school district, which is planning another job fair. Head Start centers are also looking for teachers. Three new teachers talk about the challenges, rewards and obstacles of the classroom.

WHOSE MONEY IS IT? The state Senate sent a bill to the House that would allow charters to receive a portion of property tax hikes approved by voters. Those funds have historically gone only to traditional district schools.

UNITED THEY STAND: Teachers in this southwest Detroit charter school voted to join a union, but nationally, union membership for teachers has been falling for two decades.

COLLEGE AND CAREERS: A national foundation based in Michigan granted $450,000 to a major Detroit business coalition to help more students finish college.

High school seniors across the state will be encouraged to apply to at least one college this month. The main Detroit district meanwhile showed off a technical center that prepares youngsters and adults for careers in construction, plumbing and carpentry and other fields.  

STEPS TO IMPROVEMENT: A prominent news publisher explains why he told lawmakers he believes eliminating the state board of education is the right thing to do. An advocate urged Michigan to look to other states for K-12 solutions. And one local newspaper says the governor is on the right track to improving education in Michigan.

This think tank believes businesses should be more engaged in education debates.

LISTEN TO US: The newly elected president of a state teachers union says teachers just want to be heard when policy is being made. She wrote in a Detroit newspaper that it takes passion and determination to succeed in today’s classrooms.

A PIONEER: Funeral services for a trailblazing African American educator have been scheduled for Saturday.

Also, the mother-in-law of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, died in her west Michigan home.

FARM-TO-SCHOOL:  A state program that provides extra money to school districts for locally grown produce has expanded to include more schools.

BETTER THAN AN APPLE: Nominate your favorite educator for Michigan Teacher of the Year before the 11:59 deadline tonight.

An Ann Arbor schools leader has been named the 2018 Michigan Superintendent of the Year by a state group of school administrators.

MYSTERY SMELL: The odor from a failed light bulb forced a Detroit high school to dismiss students early this week.

EXTRA CREDIT: Miss Michigan encouraged students at one Detroit school to consider the arts as they follow their dreams. The city schools foundation honored two philanthropic leaders as champions for education.

And high school students were inspired by a former college football player. 

Struggling Detroit schools

The list of promises is long: Arts, music, robotics, gifted programs and more. Will Detroit schools be able to deliver?

PHOTO: Detroit Public Television
Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti answers questions at a community meeting in Detroit.

Arts. Music. Robotics. Programs for gifted kids. New computers. New textbooks. Dual enrollment programs that let high school students take college classes. International Baccalaureate. Advanced Placement.

They’re all on the list of things that Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a group of community members assembled in a Brightmoor neighborhood church that he would introduce or expand as soon as next school year.

Vitti didn’t get into the specifics of how the main Detroit district would find the money or partnerships needed to deliver on all of those promises, but they’re part of the plan for the future, he said.

The comments came in a question and answer session last month with students, parents and community members following Vitti’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s American Black Journal/One Detroit Roadshow. The discussion was recorded at City Covenant Church. DPTV is one of Chalkbeat’s partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Vitti has been appearing at community events since taking over the Detroit schools last spring. He is scheduled next week to join officials from two of the city’s major charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, at a State of the Schools address on October 25.


Watch the full Q&A with Vitti below.