taking a stance

Memphis leaders urge state to stay out of their school improvement work

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson and the Shelby County Schools board are taking a stance against the Tennessee Department of Education's latest intervention plans for two Memphis schools.

School leaders in Memphis are taking a stand against the state’s new plan to intervene in several struggling schools in their city.

The school board approved a resolution Tuesday evening supporting Shelby County Schools’ own “efforts to turnaround low-performing schools without intervention or takeover by the State of Tennessee.”

As such, the district wants to move American Way Middle School to its Innovation Zone turnaround program next fall instead of converting it to charter school in the fall of 2019 as the state recently outlined.

The district also is declining the state’s recommendation to close Hawkins Mill Elementary School.

Both schools are slotted for the most intense interventions in Education Commissioner Candice McQueen’s plan for state involvement in 21 low-performing Memphis schools.

But a state spokeswoman said the board’s action on American Way is too late to impact the state’s decision.

“We hope to see the school make progress in the remaining months of the school year, but the district needed to take stronger intervention steps sooner to affect the decisions we made earlier this year,” said Sara Gast of the Department of Education. “It will continue forward on its current intervention track.”

The state does not have power to close Hawkins Mill, but Gast said the district needs state approval for any improvement plan.

The board’s positions put the district and state at odds again over the best way to improve chronically underperforming schools in Memphis. But this time, the dissension is in response to the state’s new accountability and school improvement model developed under the 2015 federal education law. The model is designed to work more collaboratively with local districts, but most Memphians are still angry about dozens of school takeovers since 2012 by the state’s charter-reliant Achievement School District, mostly with disappointing results.

Board member Miska Clay Bibbs, whose district includes American Way, presented her resolution on American Way last week to get ahead of the state’s plan either to convert it into a charter chosen by the district or to enter the ASD. The school board approved it unanimously on Tuesday.

“The iZone is a plan that’s working,” she told Chalkbeat later. “When you have an intervention that’s working, we can’t wait a year.”

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said he plans to set aside funding in his upcoming budget to bring American Way into the iZone this fall.

“The (state’s) proposed track was two years out. We all agree it needs intervention. Obviously the state has its preferred method, but we’ll see,” he said.

Regarding the other 19 schools on the state’s list, Hopson was more conciliatory.

“We did collaborate around the schools on the list,” he said. “There’s schools we just disagree on.”

The New Chancellor

Tell us: What should the new chancellor, Richard Carranza, know about New York City schools?

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
A student at P.S. 69 Journey Prep in the Bronx paints a picture. The school uses a Reggio Emilia approach and is in the city's Showcase Schools program.

In a few short weeks, Richard Carranza will take over the nation’s largest school system as chancellor of New York City’s public schools.

Carranza, who has never before worked east of the Mississippi, will have to get up to speed quickly on a new city with unfamiliar challenges. The best people to guide him in this endeavor: New Yorkers who understand the city in its complexity.

So we want to hear from you: What does Carranza need to know about the city, its schools, and you to help him as he gets started April 2. Please fill out the survey below; we’ll collect your responses and share them with our readers and Carranza himself.

The deadline is March 23.

buses or bust?

Mayor Duggan says bus plan encourages cooperation. Detroit school board committee wants more details.

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Detroit’s school superintendent is asking for more information about the mayor’s initiative to create a joint bus route for charter and district students after realizing the costs could be higher than the district anticipated.

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a school board subcommittee Friday that he thought the original cost to the district was estimated to be around $25,000 total. Instead, he said it could cost the district roughly between $75,000 and a maximum of $125,000 for their five schools on the loop.

“I think there was a misunderstanding….” Vitti said. “I think this needs a deeper review…The understanding was that it would be $25,000 for all schools. Now, there are ongoing conversations about it being $15,000 to $25,000 for each individual school.”

The bus loop connecting charter and district schools was announced earlier this month by Mayor Mike Duggan as a way to draw kids back from the suburbs.

Duggan’s bus loop proposal is based on one that operates in Denver that would travel a circuit in certain neighborhoods, picking up students on designated street corners and dropping them off at both district and charter schools.

The bus routes — which Duggan said would be funded by philanthropy, the schools and the city — could even service afterschool programs that the schools on the bus route could work together to create.

In concept, the finance committee was not opposed to the idea. But despite two-thirds of the cost being covered and splitting the remaining third with charters, they were worried enough about the increased costs that they voted not to recommend approval of the agreement to the full board.  

Vitti said when he saw the draft plan, the higher price made him question whether the loop would be worth it.

“If it was $25,000, it would be an easier decision,” he said.

To better understand the costs and benefits and to ultimately decide, Vitti said he needs more data, which will take a few weeks. 

Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, said the district’s hesitation was a sign they were performing their due diligence before agreeing to the plan.

“I’m not at all deterred by this,” Wiley said. She said the district, charters, and city officials have met twice, and are “working in the same direction, so that we eliminate as many barriers as we can.”

Duggan told a crowd earlier this month at the State of the City address that the bus loop was an effort to grab the city’s children – some 32,500 – back from suburban schools.

Transportation is often cited as one of the reasons children leave the city’s schools and go to other districts, and charter leaders have said they support the bus loop because they believe it will make it easier for students to attend their schools.

But some board members had doubts that the bus loop would be enough to bring those kids back, and were concerned about giving charters an advantage in their competition against the district to increase enrollment.

“I don’t know if transportation would be why these parents send their kids outside of the district,” Angelique Peterson-Mayberry said. “If we could find out some of the reasons why, it would add to the validity” of implementing the bus loop.

Board member LaMar Lemmons echoed other members’ concerns on the impact of the transportation plan, and said many parents left the district because of the poor quality of schools under emergency management, not transportation.

“All those years in emergency management, that drove parents to seek alternatives, as well as charters,” he said. “I’m hesitant to form an unholy alliance with the charters for something like this.”