Mosaic Fellowship

Meet first Tennesseans in a new education leadership program for people of color

2017-18 Mosaic Fellows (Photos courtesy of Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition)

A new public education fellowship for people of color will spotlight issues of equity and connect stakeholders of diverse backgrounds in the quest to improve student achievement across Tennessee.

Sixteen people in the first class of Mosaic Fellows were named this week by the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition in conjunction with Conexión Américas, a nonprofit Latino advocacy group.

The inaugural fellows include both educators and advocates — an expansion from several existing statewide fellowships exclusively for teachers, but the first aimed specifically at people of color.

Organizers say the newest leadership development program is needed to better reflect the communities served by public schools, as well as to convene leaders with experience and insights necessary for long-term improvements for all students.

“Tennessee has seen remarkable transformation in our education landscape over the last decade, yet we still have large groups of students who are being left behind,” said Gini Pupo-Walker, director of education policy and programs at Conexión Américas. “It is our collective responsibility to ensure that a diverse group of leaders are helping shape and inform solutions to our complex educational challenges.”

In recent years, the state has grappled with a shortage of teachers of color. About 14 percent of new teachers in Tennessee training programs identify as non-white, compared to 36 percent of the state’s student population. More than 100 school districts did not have a single Hispanic teacher and 27 did not have a single African-American teacher, according to state data from 2014.


Here’s what male teachers of color want their districts to know about them


The year-long Mosaic Fellowship will include four three-day seminars that focus on current and historic issues in Tennessee education, leadership and diversity.

The 2017-18 fellows are:

West Tennessee
Mendell Grinter, executive director, Campaign for School Equity
Keji Kujjo, teacher, Kate Bond Middle School
Natalie McKinney, executive director, Whole Child Strategies, Inc.
Cardell Orrin, Memphis director, Stand for Children
Marcos Villa, community engagement coordinator, Latino Memphis
Bobby White, founder and CEO, Frayser Community Schools

Middle Tennessee
Diarese George, recruiting director, Nashville Teacher Residency
Martel Graham, school director, Knowledge Academies High School
Alicia Hunker, teacher, Valor Collegiate Academy
Vanessa Lazón, director of community inclusion, Mayor Megan Barry’s office of new Americans
Jon Robertson, founding high school director, STEM Prep High School
Peter Tang, Tennessee educator fellowship coordinator, SCORE

East Tennessee
Claudia Caballero, executive director of Centro Hispano de East Tennessee
Cassandra “KC” Curberson-Alvarado, career success coordinator, Hamblen County Schools
Quineka Moten, director of education and youth services, Knoxville Area Urban League
Gladys Pineda-Loher, director of international community outreach, Chattanooga State Community College

You can read more about each fellow here.

holding pattern

The Denver district asked for state intervention in a pending teacher strike. Here’s what that means.

PHOTO: Erica Meltzer/Chalkbeat
Office of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.

After meeting with Gov. Jared Polis for roughly an hour Wednesday morning, Denver Public Schools officials formally requested state intervention in a potential teacher strike.

The request is not a surprise — Denver Superintendent Susana Cordova said she would ask for state intervention almost immediately after the Denver teachers union on Jan. 8 filed its notice of intent to strike — and it does not necessarily mean the strike won’t go forward. It could, however, delay it.

In a press release late Wednesday afternoon, Polis said he had not made a decision.

“The governor and the Department of Labor and Employment will continue to engage both sides and encourage both sides to return to the table and continue negotiating on a path forward,” the governor’s office said.

Without state intervention, a Denver strike could start as soon as Monday.

However, no action can occur while a decision is pending. Now that the district has filed its request, teachers cannot legally strike until a decision about intervention is made. That potentially provides time for more negotiations to occur. 

By law, the teachers union has 10 days to respond to the district’s request for intervention, and the department then has 14 days to make a decision. However, neither the union nor the department is required to take the full time, state labor officials said. That means this could all play out before the end of the week, clearing the way for a strike, or drag into February.

Denver Classroom Teachers Association members voted overwhelmingly to go on strike after months of negotiations over teacher pay and the structure of ProComp, a system that provides bonuses and incentives to teachers on top of base pay, ended without an agreement.

The two sides are about $8 million apart and also disagree strongly about how much money should go toward incentives for teachers at high-poverty schools. The union wants more money to go toward base pay, while the districts sees the incentives as an important tool in attracting and keeping teachers at more challenging schools.

Typically, the Department of Labor and Employment only intervenes when both sides request it. However, the head of the department, who is appointed by the governor, can intervene if he believes it is in the public interest or if the governor does. The state cannot impose an agreement on the two sides, but it can provide mediation, conduct fact-finding, or hold hearings to try to bring the two parties together.

During the intervention period, which can last as long as 180 days, teachers and special service providers, like nurses, counselors, and school psychologists, also could not legally strike.

Denver Public Schools and the teachers union already have been working with a mediator for months. In the Pueblo teachers strike in May, the state declined to intervene because the two sides had already used mediation and fact-finding. 

“The governor is being thoughtful about the appropriate role he can take in helping settle this,” Cordova said as she left her meeting with the governor at midday.

Shortly afterward, a spokesperson for the Department of Labor and Employment confirmed that Denver Public Schools had filed a request for intervention with the department.

Representatives of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association declined to comment, but posted a statement on their website. They told all members to report to work “until we hear otherwise.”

“We are disappointed in the district’s decision to involve a third party to delay our strike rather than negotiating in good faith with educators in Denver,” the union said. “We know the district has the resources to reach an agreement, and we hope to return to the table to continue negotiations on a fair compensation system for all teachers and [special service providers].”

Union representatives also met with the governor Wednesday.

“This is his effort to hear from both sides, to give both of us a chance to explain why we’ve created our proposals the way we have, and think about next steps,” Cordova said.

Cordova said she believes an outside party can help make progress where the two sides could not.

“There is deep mistrust on the part of our teachers,” she said. “Being in a place where we all feel confident we understand the facts would be really helpful.”

Denver Public Schools parents received an automated message from Cordova on Wednesday morning assuring them that school will continue as usual this week.

District officials are asking parents to make sure their contact information and any student medication records are up to date in the Parent Portal as they expect to use substitute teachers and redeployed central office staff — people who will not know students and their families the way classroom teachers do — to keep schools operating.

Here is the request the district filed with the state:



silver screen

United Federation of Teachers drops more than $1 million on new ad campaign

PHOTO: Courtesy photo/UFT
In a new ad released by The United Federation of Teachers, a teacher crouches at a student's desk and smiles.

Amid a wave of teacher activism nationwide and major threats to the influence of unions, the United Federation of Teachers is expected to spend more than $1 million on a primetime television and streaming ad featuring local educators.

The 30-second spot hit the airwaves on Jan. 23 and will run through Feb. 1, with an expected audience of 11 million television viewers and 4 million impressions online, according to the union.

Featuring a chorus of singing students, bright classrooms, and a glamour shot of the city, the ad is called “Voice.” A diverse group of teachers declares: “Having a voice makes us strong. And makes our public schools even stronger.” It ends with the message, “The United Federation of Teachers. Public school proud.”

The union, the largest local in the country, typically runs ads this time of year, as the legislative session in Albany heats up and city budget negotiations kick-off. But this time, the campaign launches against the backdrop of an emboldened teaching force across the country, with a teacher strike in Los Angeles and another potentially starting next week in Denver.

UFT is also eager to prove its worth after the recent Janus Supreme Court ruling, which could devastate membership by banning mandatory fees to help pay for collective bargaining. So far, membership has remained strong but the union could face headwinds from organized right-to-work groups and the sheer number of new hires that come into the New York City school system every year.

The ad will run locally during programs including “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and “Good Morning America,” on networks such as MSNBC and CNN, and on the streaming service Hulu. You can watch the ad here.