Movers & shakers

Meet the new leader of Memphis’ emerging pre-K training program

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Kelley Nichols is the vice-president of teacher excellence at Porter-Leath and will help lead the Teacher Excellence Program, a year-old training strategy to boost the quality of early education instruction in Memphis through mentoring and coaching.

Elementary school teacher Kelley Nichols wanted to teach in preschool because she knew she would get a discount for enrolling her own children.

But even as she grew into teaching prekindergarten, she realized there was a need for experienced educators to mentor pre-K teachers.

“I ended up falling in love with pre-K,” she said. “But I also saw the gaps in how educators are, or aren’t, mentored.”

This lack of mentoring for teachers eventually led Nichols to Porter-Leath, the city’s largest provider of early childhood education, which partners with Shelby County Schools for Head Start classrooms.

Nichols is now the vice-president of teacher excellence and will help lead the Teacher Excellence Program, a year-old training strategy to boost the quality of early education instruction in Memphis through mentoring and coaching.

Read more about the origins of the Teacher Excellence Program here.

Nichols, who started last month, was previously the director of curriculum and instruction at Capstone Education Group, a local charter organization. She replaces Rafel Hart, who helped launch the program.

The program trained more than 500 pre-K teachers in Memphis this school year, which is focused on four subject areas: socio-emotional learning, which aims to help students manage their emotions and learn self-awareness; literacy; health, and STEAM, shorthand for science, technology, engineering, art, and math.

All new Porter-Leath and Shelby County Schools early childhood educators go through this training, but longtime teachers are also encouraged to attend. Porter-Leath provides trained substitutes for those who can’t afford them to encourage Memphis daycare operators to send their teachers.

Nichols said feedback from past participants is helping her shape the program’s second year.

“We heard from teachers that they felt like they could walk out of a training and implement what they learned the next day,” Nichols said. “We also got feedback that the relief teachers made daycare operators comfortable to come to training. They didn’t feel like they were losing a day of instruction with their kids, because an experienced teacher was subbing for them.”

Some of the teachers who go through the trainings are assigned a coach from Porter-Leath, who work with them all year long. Nichols said she hopes to add more coaches to Porter-Leath’s staff. Currently, eight coaches oversee 12 teachers each.

“Teachers have voiced that coaches need lower caseloads, Nichols said. “Our coaches have developed really trusting relationships with teachers that help teachers really dive into how to improve instruction. We definitely want to grow this.”

meet the candidates

These candidates are running for Detroit school board. Watch them introduce themselves.

Nine candidates are vying for two seats on Detroit's school board in November. Seven submitted photos.

One candidate tells of a childhood in a house without heat.

Another describes the two-hour commute he made to high school every day to build a future that would one day enable him to give back to Detroit.

A third says her work as a student activist inspired her to run for school board as a recent high school grad.

These candidates are among nine people vying for two seats up for grabs on Detroit’s seven-member school board on Nov. 6. That includes one incumbent and many graduates of the district.

Chalkbeat is partnering with Citizen Detroit to present a school board candidate forum Thursday, Sept. 20 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at IBEW Local 58, 1358 Abbott St., Detroit.

Participants will have the opportunity to meet each candidate and ask questions in a speed-dating format.

In anticipation of that event, Citizen Detroit invited each of the candidates to make a short video introducing themselves to voters. Seven candidates made videos.

Watch them here:

School safety

Report lists litany of failings over police in Chicago schools

PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Police officers stand alongside Lake Shore Drive in August as protesters decry violence and lack of investment in African-American neighborhoods and schools

The Chicago Police Department doesn’t adequately screen and train the officers it assigns to Chicago Public Schools, and their roles in schools are poorly defined, according to a sharply critical report released today by the Office of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

The report lists a litany of failings, including basic administration: There is no current agreement between the police department and the district governing the deployment of school resource officers, or SROs, and neither the schools nor the police even have a current list of the officers working in schools this year.

The inspector general’s report also mentions several sets of SRO resources and best practices created and endorsed by the federal government, then notes that Chicago hasn’t adopted any of them. “CPD’s current lack of guidance and structure for SROs amplifies community concerns and underscores the high probability that students are unnecessarily becoming involved in the criminal justice system, despite the availability of alternate solutions,” says the report.

Chalkbeat reported in August about incidents in which SROs used batons and tasers on students while intervening in routine disciplinary matters.

Scrutiny of SROs is nothing new, and is part of the broader CPD consent decree brokered this week between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. That agreement calls for better training and vetting of SROs, as well as a clearer delineation of their roles on campuses—including a prohibition against participating in routine school discipline — beginning with the 2019-20 school year.

Read more: How the police consent decree could impact Chicago schools

But the report from Ferguson’s office says that the consent decree doesn’t go far enough. It chastises police for not pledging to include the community in the creation of its agreement with the school district, nor in the establishment of hiring guidelines; and for not creating a plan for evaluating SROs’ performance, among other recommendations. In addition, the report criticizes the police department for delaying the reforms until the 2019-20 school year. A draft of the inspector general’s report was given to the police department in early August in hopes that some of the issues could be resolved in time for the school year that began last week. The police department asked for an extension for its reply.