collaboration station

KIPP launches collaborative with Memphis charters to improve literacy results

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Monique Cincore (center) is one of 23 educators participating in a new collaborative between local charter schools and KIPP.

When a school adopts a new curriculum, one of the most time-consuming tasks for teachers is figuring out how to bring those new ideas into their classrooms.

This is especially true for charter schools with smaller staffs who are often starting from scratch in designing a curriculum aligned to state standards, said Monique Cincore, principal at Aspire East Academy in Memphis.

The KIPP Foundation, a national charter organization, is giving away its English curriculum, KIPP Wheatley, for free to help lighten other charters’ loads. And for the first time, KIPP has established a  “charter collaborative,” sharing its curriculum and training for it with four Memphis charter organizations with the goal of helping local teachers and leaders figure out how to bring the curriculum into their classrooms.

“The charter world can be so siloed,” said Daniel Sonnier, the director of KIPP Wheatley Achievement, who helped run the first Memphis collaborative session in early October. “Everyone is doing their own thing. But now we have this shared curriculum, and we can learn from one another.”

Eleven elementary and middle schools from four different charter organizations in Memphis adopted the KIPP Wheatley curriculum last year, with Memphis Business Academy joining this year. Starting last week, 23 educators from the schools will meet monthly to try out ideas and receive feedback from KIPP Wheatley experts. KIPP led a two-day session with the educators at the Memphis Education Fund, which donated the space.

“We tend to work within our own buildings, and there’s not as much opportunity like this to practice and hear from other schools,” Cincore said. “Having this curriculum as a starting point cuts through a lot of heavy lifting, and helps me focus on this question: ‘How do I lessen teachers’ loads?’ ”

The participating schools are:

Aspire Public Schools 

  • Aspire Coleman Elementary
  • Aspire Coleman Middle
  • Aspire Hanley Elementary
  • Aspire East Academy

Freedom Preparatory Academy 

  • Freedom Preparatory Academy – Westwood
  • Freedom Preparatory Academy – Whitehaven

Memphis Business Academy 

  • Memphis STEM Academy
  • Memphis Business Academy Middle

KIPP Memphis

  • KIPP Memphis Collegiate Elementary
  • KIPP Memphis Collegiate Middle
  • KIPP Memphis Preparatory Middle

One of the main goals of the collaborative is to grow English scores an average of 8 percentage points at the participating schools on the next state test, Sonnier said.

He said they are waiting for charter organizations to report on Wheatley’s effect on their state scores during the first year. Individual school scores for last year’s state TNReady exam haven’t been released yet, but state-level scores for K-8 show most students are lagging in literacy.  

The KIPP curriculum is aligned with the Common Core and while the state of Tennessee moved away from Common Core to Tennessee Academic Standards this year, Sonnier said teachers won’t have much to change.

“Common Core and the Tennessee standards are very similar,” Sonnier said at the collaborative session. “A Common Core curriculum focuses on a close reading of text. For us, text is queen or king. It rules over everything.”

KIPP formed the literacy curriculum five years ago and is using grants from the Charter School Growth Fund and the Schusterman Foundation to spread KIPP Wheatley to cities like Memphis. The curriculum is now being taught to more than 15,000 students across the nation, according to a KIPP blog post.

Sonnier said they have seen positive results from the curriculum at their KIPP New York and KIPP New Jersey schools in particular, with KIPP New Jersey growing by 7 and 10 percentage points respectively in their elementary and middle school literacy scores on state tests last year.

KIPP is hoping to repeat its success in Memphis, with cross-charter collaboration as the key. If the collaborative is successful, KIPP will try a similar approach in other cities like Denver or New York, Sonnier said.

“The opportunity to interact and engage with folks in the way Memphis is able to is refreshing,”  he said. 

Top teacher

Franklin educator is Tennessee’s 2018-19 Teacher of the Year

PHOTO: TDOE
Melissa Miller leads her students in a learning game at Franklin Elementary School in Franklin Special School District in Williamson County. Miller is Tennessee's 2018-19 Teacher of the Year.

A first-grade teacher in Franklin is Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year.

Melissa Miller

Melissa Miller, who works at Franklin Elementary School, received the 2018-19 honor for excellence in the classroom Thursday evening during a banquet in Nashville.

A teacher for 19 years, she is National Board Certified, serves as a team leader and mentor at her school, and trains her colleagues on curriculum and technology in Franklin’s city school district in Williamson County, just south of Nashville. She will represent Tennessee in national competition and serve on several working groups with the state education department.

Miller was one of nine finalists statewide for the award, which has been presented to a Tennessee public school teacher most every year since 1960 as a way to promote respect and appreciation for the profession. The finalists were chosen based on scoring from a panel of educators; three regional winners were narrowed down following interviews.

In addition to Miller, who also won in Middle Tennessee, the state recognized Lori Farley, a media specialist at North City Elementary School in Athens City Schools, in East Tennessee. Michael Robinson, a high school social studies teacher at Houston High School in Germantown Municipal School District, was this year’s top teacher in West Tennessee.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen praised the finalists for leading their students to impressive academic gains and growth. She noted that “teachers are the single most important factor in improving students’ achievement.”

Last year’s statewide winner was Cicely Woodard, an eighth-grade math teacher in Nashville who has since moved to a middle school in the same Franklin district as Miller.

You can learn more about Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year program here.

PSA

Have you thought about teaching? Colorado teachers union sells the profession in new videos

PHOTO: Colorado Education Association

There are a lot of factors contributing to a shortage of teachers in Colorado and around the nation. One of them — with potentially long-term consequences — is that far fewer people are enrolling in or graduating from teacher preparation programs. A recent poll found that more than half of respondents, citing low pay and lack of respect, would not want their children to become teachers.

Earlier this year, one middle school teacher told Chalkbeat the state should invest in public service announcements to promote the profession.

“We could use some resources in Colorado to highlight how attractive teaching is, for the intangibles,” said Mary Hulac, who teaches English in the Greeley-Evans district. “I tell my students every day, this is the best job.

“You learn every day as a teacher. I’m a language arts teacher. When we talk about themes, and I hear a story through another student’s perspective, it’s always exciting and new.”

The Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, has brought some resources to help get that message out with a series of videos aimed at “up-and-coming professionals deciding on a career.” A spokesman declined to say how much the union was putting into the ad buy.

The theme of the ads is: “Change a life. Change the world.”

“Nowhere but in the education profession can a person have such a profound impact on the lives of students,” association President Amie Baca-Oehlert said in a press release. “We want to show that teaching is a wonderful and noble profession.”

As the union notes, “Opportunities to teach in Colorado are abundant.”

One of the ads features 2018 Colorado Teacher of the Year Christina Randle.

“Are you ready to be a positive role model for kids and have a direct impact on the future?” Randle asks.

Another features an education student who was inspired by her own teachers and a 20-year veteran talking about how much she loves her job.

How would you sell the teaching profession to someone considering their career options? Let us know at co.tips@chalkbeat.org.