Education endorsement

Memphis schools superintendent backs Republican Bill Lee for governor

PHOTO: The Tennessean,
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson, right, has endorsed Bill Lee, the Republican nominee for governor.

The leader of Tennessee’s largest school district is throwing his support behind Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee.

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said Lee would be “open-minded and solutions-oriented” on issues important to him such as “improving testing, raising teacher pay, supporting students’ social and emotional needs and adopting multiple strategies to improve public education in Tennessee.”

“We both believe that all kids should have access to a quality education and that we have to continue to find ways to better support teachers,” Hopson told Chalkbeat. “We also believe in the turnaround efforts happening in our iZone and that districts should continue to search for innovative ways to support chronically underperforming schools.”

Hopson’s endorsement is the first for the Memphis education leader, who was also superintendent when Gov. Bill Haslam ran for re-election in 2014. Memphis reliably votes Democrat in an otherwise Republican state and has been at odds with the Republican legislature and administration on several education issues, but Hopson has in recent years attempted to thaw the often contentious relationship.

Lee, a businessman and farmer, touted Hopson’s support during a debate Tuesday against his opponent Karl Dean, a Democrat and former Nashville mayor.

Lee praised the Innovation Zone, a school improvement program of Shelby County Schools’ design that has boosted test scores for students at chronically low-performing schools in impoverished neighborhoods.

Lee noted that in the last five years (Hopson’s tenure as superintendent), the school district has gone from 69 schools on the priority list to 27 — some were taken over by the state, others were closed, but nearly 20 were improved by the district.

“There’s been profound improvement by addressing changes in the model,” he said referring to the iZone. “When I’m governor I want to go to every struggling school district and say, ‘What is your idea of your innovation zone to transform your educational system?’

Hopson said Lee reached out to him to meet about a year and a half ago when Lee was considering running for governor.

“We routinely discussed faith, family, government and education issues,” Hopson told Chalkbeat. “I appreciated the thoughtful and humble way that he sought my input.”

Hopson recently accepted Lee’s request for him to be in his West Tennessee group to advise him on education issues. However, the five-year leader of the Memphis district was quick to point out he was not positioning himself for a state role if Lee is elected in November.

“I am not angling for a job and I certainly am not planning on running for public office,” he said. “We have a lot of positive momentum at Shelby County Schools right now and have lots of work to do.”

There are still a few diversions between Lee and Hopson on education issues. Hopson re-emphasized his yearslong stance against public funding for private school tuition, a measure Lee supports and that some lawmakers have pushed to approve for nearly a decade.

“I am unaware of any statistically significant evidence that demonstrates that vouchers improve student outcomes for low income students,” Hopson said. “Along with our (school) board and other districts, I have advocated against vouchers for years.”

Lee said recently he was hesitant about expanding prekindergarten unless it is high quality and effective. Hopson has touted pre-K as a big driver in the district’s recent gains in literacy among young students.

On arming teachers with guns, Lee supports the idea, while Hopson said that would not be a viable prevention against school shootings in Memphis.

Bureau chief Jacinthia Jones contributed to this story.

The race

As governor, Bill Schuette would consider ‘all options’ for struggling schools, including closings

Attorney General Bill Schuette is the GOP nominee for governor in Michigan.

Attorney General Bill Schuette is putting struggling Michigan schools on notice: Shape up or face the consequences if he becomes governor.

“You have to look at schools and see how we can make them improve and function better,” Schuette told reporters last week. “But if a school … isn’t doing the job, then we need to make sure that we help the parents and help the children … Education and outcomes. That ought to be our focus and nothing but that.”

Schuette, the state’s Republican nominee for governor, stopped short of saying that he would actively close schools but he has supported school closings in the past.

In 2016, he issued a legal opinion aimed at clearing a path for school closures in Detroit.

His campaign spokesman, John Sellek, added that Schuette “believes all options should be on the table because the main focus must be on achieving the best outcome for each child, as soon as possible.”

Schuette’s remarks came during an hour-long interview last week with reporters from the Detroit Journalism Cooperative, which includes Chalkbeat and five other nonprofit news organizations.

Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, the former state senate minority leader, was one of six gubernatorial primary candidates who sat down for similar interviews in July. She has been invited to do another interview now that she’s the Democratic nominee but that has not yet been scheduled. Schuette did not do an interview during the primary.

During his sit-down last week, Schuette took questions on a range of subjects including crucial education issues.

On how Michigan funds schools: He called for a “review” of K-12 education spending, adding “we need to focus on outcomes.”

On whether schools serving children with higher needs should get more funds: He said “we have to look at how we can provide greater training for teachers and for those who have a challenge in terms of their student population.”

On school accountability: He called for an A to F grading system that would lead to improving schools getting extra funds. “I believe in incentives,” he said.

On whether Michigan should provide pre-K to all 4-year-olds: He said he’ll consider it.  “We ought to look at every idea and if it doesn’t work then try something else,” he said.

Watch the full interview with Schuette, including his comments on roads, infrastructure and other issues here. Or, scroll down to read an unedited transcript.


Tipton County school leader named Tennessee’s principal of the year

Vicki Shipley stands with Education Commissioner Candice McQueen after being named Tennessee's principal of the year. Shipley is principal of Munford Middle School in Tipton County in West Tennessee. (Photo courtesy of Tennessee Department of Education)

A Tipton County middle school administrator is Tennessee’s 2018-19 principal of the year.

Vicki Shipley is in her eighth year as principal of Munford Middle School, north of Memphis, and her 18th year in school administration.

She received the honor at a banquet Thursday evening in Nashville during the state education department’s annual LEAD conference for school leaders at all levels.

Praised for her collaborative approach and emphasis on professional learning, Shipley was one of nine finalists for the annual award and also was named the top principal for West Tennessee.

Other regional winners were:

  • Velena Newton, Richland Elementary, Giles County Schools, Middle Tennessee
  • Joseph Ely, Lincoln Heights Middle, Hamblen County Schools, East Tennessee

The awards were handed out as Tennessee increasingly emphasizes and invests in school leadership. When it comes to the impact of school-related factors on student learning, research shows that school leaders are second in importance only to teachers — but also can have a multiplier effect on the quality of teaching.

READ: How do you improve schools? Start by coaching principals, says new study

Tennessee also honored Maria Warren of Loudon County Schools as its supervisor of the year.

Warren supervises elementary schools in her Knoxville area district and oversees academic interventions for struggling students. She is a 27-year educator and was lauded for her organization of professional learning opportunities for local educators.

Other regional supervisor winners were:

  • Regina T. Merriman, Cannon County School District, Middle Tennessee
  • Angie M. Delloso, Lakeland School System, West Tennessee

Last month, Tennessee named first-grade teacher Melissa Miller of Franklin as its 2018-19 teacher of the year.

You can learn more about recognition of Tennessee’s top educators here.