future of work

Memphis charter school creates classroom inside international manufacturing hub

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Kayvion Walton, 17, is learning how to test water samples as part of his environmental safety project. He is one of the students from Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering participating in the school’s pilot program with Smith & Nephew.

Ten students at a Memphis charter school will spend the majority of their senior year learning about medical engineering — all while training at a global technology giant.

Kayvion Walton, 17, is one of the seniors from Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering participating in the school’s pilot program this year with Smith & Nephew, a global business with part of its company based in south Memphis.

“I’ve been accepted to Xavier College and I wanted the chance to be out in the real world,” Walton said. “I’ve gotten to learn how robots make (prosthetic) knees here. I came in thinking I would go to school for nursing, and I’ve learned a lot about how prostheses are used in surgery.”

The seniors spend four hours of the school day working on different Smith & Nephew projects, ranging from quality checks on prosthetics to environmental safety practices. Students spend the mornings completing senior coursework at school before traveling seven miles to the manufacturing hub in South Memphis.

Called “STEM in Motion,” the program’s creation comes amidst renewed emphasis on career and technical education as part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative with the goal that at least 55 percent of Tennesseans will have postsecondary degrees or other high-skill job certifications by 2025.

It is part of a larger national focus under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which holds states like Tennessee accountable for bolstering the number of career opportunities, such as apprenticeships, that are available to students. While the push for teaching career-specific skills has wide support, some research suggests that such programs leave students pigeonholed in a fast-changing economy.

But at Smith & Nephew, company officials see the program as a way to bolster a local pipeline for future jobs, said Jessica Becker, senior director of quality for Smith & Nephew. Becker sits on the MASE board and helped to coordinate the program.

“I started here as an intern and here I am more than 20 years later,” Becker said. “We, like many STEM-related companies, want to maintain talent locally. … We see real talent in these high school students and one hope of the program is that these students will return as college interns or employees someday.”

For this year, the students’ projects all focus on engineering, but that could expand in the future.

“We have teams that handle all aspects of business,” Becker said. “We’re excited to focus on engineering for now, but there’s a lot of potential for the program. We’re wanting to give students that real-world exposure that’s so rare in secondary education.”

The pilot is a first of its kind for both MASE and Smith & Nephew, who have had a longstanding partnership, said Rodrick Gaston, executive director of the 15-year-old charter school. The company is donating space and instructional time to the school, and in turn, the students are assisting in projects for free.

Gaston said they modeled the pilot after the MC2 STEM High School in Cleveland, Ohio, where students spend each year of high school embedded in a different company or college around Cleveland.

Like MASE, the Cleveland high school has a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics focus. MC2 STEM opened 10 years ago as part of Cleveland’s push for more STEM-based schools and has seen successes in graduation rates and college-retention rates.

All seniors at the Memphis charter school with a 20 on the ACT and a 3.0-grade point average had the option to apply for the program, Gaston said. The school chose 10 seniors to participate out of about 20 applications.

But if all goes well during the pilot year, the goal would be to add more seniors to the Smith & Nephew program and partner a different company with the junior class. Gaston said they have had some conversations with Memphis children hospitals St. Jude and Le Bonheur on such a partnership.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
If all goes well during the pilot year, the goal would be to add more seniors to the Smith & Nephew program.

Success would look like fostering passion and curiosity among the students participating, Gaston said. But the school will also be monitoring the students’ grades and test scores to make sure that the program doesn’t take away from their academic success.

“We have a MASE teacher onsite to assist the students with their projects and incorporate lessons throughout the day,” Gaston said.

For Lakayla Mathews, a 17-year-old in the program, the biggest takeaway has been time management.

“I’m learning how to balance school work and this internship,” Mathews said. “I wanted to do it because I wanted that exposure before I graduated high school. I want to be a clinical psychologist, and learning work ethic and teamwork here will help in later on.”

biding time

Strike vote by Denver teachers no longer imminent due to contract extension

PHOTO: Eric Gorski
The bargaining teams from Denver Public Schools and the Denver teachers union at a contract negotiation session in 2017.

Although the Denver school district and its teachers union failed to reach a deal on an overhaul of the district’s pay-for-performance system, the prospect of a strike is less imminent.

Earlier this week, the union’s board of directors authorized a strike vote if a new agreement couldn’t be reached by the time the current one expired at midnight Wednesday.

The two sides couldn’t come to terms on how to change the system, but did reach a different kind of deal: District officials agreed to the union’s request to extend the current pay-for-performance agreement until January 2019 in the hopes that Colorado voters will approve a tax increase in November benefiting schools, making teacher pay raises more likely. However, the union did not take the threat of a strike completely off the table.

A statement from the union, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said the union “will begin preparing to take work actions to ensure progress on the new compensation system. If no agreement is reached by the Jan. 18 deadline, DCTA will immediately ask for a strike vote from union members the following day.”

In other districts that have experienced labor conflicts, teachers have picketed, refused to work extra hours, and even waged “sickouts.” The Denver teachers union did not specify the types of work actions they were considering.

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg said the district was reluctant to sign a ten-month extension, “but in the end, we are prepared to honor their request for more time.”

“We all have a very clear, common goal and common interest around supporting our kids and giving our kids the very best chances to learn and grow,” Boasberg said. “I’m confident that common goal and common aspirations will help us move toward an agreement.”

Denver’s pay-for-performance system, called ProComp, was first piloted in 1999. Under the current agreement, teachers earn a base salary based partly on their level of education and years of experience, and partly on how much training they completed the year before and on the outcome of a yearly evaluation that takes student test scores into account.

Teachers can also earn bonuses and incentives on top of their base salary. This year, for example, teachers who work in a hard-to-serve school with a high percentage of students living in poverty can earn an extra $2,578 per year.

The union wants to make teachers’ paychecks more predictable by moving back to a traditional “steps and lanes” salary schedule in which raises are based on education and experience. Union leaders also want higher base salaries. The union proposed a salary schedule that would pay teachers with a doctorate degree and 20 or more years of experience a base salary of $100,000 with the opportunity to earn a more limited number of incentives on top of that.

The district, meanwhile, proposed a salary schedule that would continue to take teacher evaluations into account when calculating raises but would allow teachers to more significantly build their base salaries for more years. While the union’s proposal shrinks some incentives, the district’s proposal grows the incentive for teaching in a hard-to-serve school.

District officials said the union’s proposal is too expensive. ProComp is funded by a voter-approved tax increase that is expected to raise about $35 million this year. The union’s proposal would cost more than twice as much, district officials said.

Union leaders asked to extend the current agreement until January 2019 in the hopes that Colorado voters approve a proposed ballot measure that would raise $1.6 billion for schools. Backers of the measure, which would increase income taxes for people who earn more than $150,000 per year, are collecting signatures to get it on the November ballot.

Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights requires that voters approve any tax increase. In 2013, voters rejected a school funding tax increase that would have raised $950 million its first year.

Boasberg supports this year’s effort. He’s among the Colorado superintendents pushing for a new, “student centered” school funding formula if the measure passes.

“The entire purpose of that funding measure is to strengthen teacher compensation, decrease class sizes, and improve supports for kids,” Boasberg said. “So if that passes, of course we will eagerly sit down with DCTA to discuss how we strengthen our compensation for teachers.”

On the brink

Denver teachers union leaders vote to call for a strike vote if pay negotiations fail

PHOTO: Marissa Page
Teachers watch a master contract bargaining session between Denver Public Schools and the Denver teachers union on June 22.

The Denver teachers union’s board of directors voted Tuesday to ask its members to strike if the union and the school district fail to reach an agreement Wednesday on teacher pay.

It’s the first time Denver Classroom Teachers Association leaders have taken such a vote since the 1990s, said Corey Kern, the union’s deputy executive director. He said Denver teachers are fed up with the district and inspired by the recent actions of teachers in West Virginia and Oklahoma.

“Teachers don’t think the district is taking them seriously,” Kern said.

Since November, the union and the district have been negotiating an overhaul of Denver Public Schools’ pioneering pay-for-performance system, called ProComp. The current agreement expires at midnight Wednesday. Kern said the union’s preference is “to get a deal done,” but its directors were clear that “if that doesn’t ultimately happen, they will ask for a strike vote.”

Kern said he didn’t know when a strike vote would be held, but it probably wouldn’t happen immediately.

Denver Public Schools officials said in a statement Tuesday they “are committed to reaching an agreement.” If the sides can’t agree Wednesday, the district pledged to continue with the current pay-for-performance system to ensure teachers get their expected pay.

The union has offered a proposal that would pay teachers with a doctorate and 20 years or more of experience a base salary of $100,000.

The current salary schedule goes up to $74,130 for teachers with a doctorate and at least 11 years of experience. Under ProComp, teachers can earn bonuses and incentives on top of that. In 2015-16, the average second-year teacher earned an extra $5,599, according to the district.

In August the district and the union signed a new five-year master contract that included increases in base pay – which the district said were the largest raises in the metro area – and an additional $1,500 for teachers who work in high-poverty schools.

This round of negotiations is for the ProComp agreement, which is separate from the master contract. The district first piloted pay-for-performance in 1999. Voters in 2005 approved a tax increase to fund it. Those taxes will generate about $35 million this year, according to district officials. The last significant redesign of the ProComp system happened in 2008.

The union’s proposal calls for higher base salaries and reduces the size of the incentives teachers can earn for working in hard-to-serve schools or hard-to-fill positions. Union leaders have said teachers want a more predictable pay structure that relies less on bonuses, which can vary year to year.

The district, meanwhile, has suggested increasing some incentives as a way to attract and retain teachers. The district has also suggested providing teachers who earn four years of “distinguished” evaluations with base salary increases equivalent to what they would get for earning a master’s degree.

The union’s proposal to raise the maximum base salary to $100,000 would require more than twice as much money as taxpayers pay into ProComp each year, a district spokeswoman said.

The two sides are set to return to the negotiating table Wednesday morning.