Making the grade

Memphis board looks for a better way to grade its top education chief

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Peter Gorman, a former Charlotte superintendent and consultant, is helping Memphis board members update Superintendent Dorsey Hopson's evaluation process.

Memphis school board members want to measure more accurately the accomplishments and failures of the superintendent of Shelby County Schools.

Currently, school board members rate Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s job performance on a scale of 1 to 5 in several categories, including student achievement, facilities and finance, and relationships with staff, the board, and the community. But those categories don’t include specific benchmarks board members expect him to meet.

As the district strives to meet its goal for 2025 to prepare students for beyond high school, effectively evaluating those at the top will become more critical, said Peter Gorman, a former Charlotte superintendent who is working with the district and school board to improve the process. Board members are lining up the superintendent’s evaluation measurements with the district’s updated academic plan.

“We have a lack of quantifiable measures within the tool that we’re using,” said board member Kevin Woods. “There are, internal to the district, already measures that have been outlined in the academic plan… and it’s already what the superintendent is holding himself and his staff accountable for.”


What do you think board members should use in evaluating the superintendent? Let us know by emailing tn.tips@chalkbeat.org.


Gorman plans to work with Hopson’s team to recommend data points the board could include in the new evaluation. Board chair Shante Avant, evaluation committee chairman Scott McCormick, and board vice chair Stephanie Love will lead the effort to craft a new evaluation that would take effect next year.

Board members also hope to add a “constituent services” component to make sure his staff is being more responsive to the public.

“This benefits everyone. This increases performance,” he told board members Tuesday. “There’s got to be this alignment piece that it trickles all the way through the organization.”

This would not be the first time the board changed the process for evaluating Hopson. The school board has rated Hopson as satisfactory, though not exemplary, in recent years and last year extended his contract to 2020 with a $16,000 raise. In 2015, his evaluation score dipped after reducing the number of categories board members examined.

Hopson has led Tennessee’s largest school system for five years and overseen a tumultuous time for the district. In 2013, the city’s school district folded into the county system, a complicated logistical feat that still reverberates today. The following year, six suburban towns split off to create their own districts with about 34,000 students. At the same time, the state-run Achievement School District grew as it took over district schools that had chronic low performance on state tests. Nearly two dozen district schools closed during that time as Hopson and his staff rushed to fill budget deficits left in the wake of all the changes and reductions in student enrollment.

Despite the strenuous circumstances, fewer schools are on the state’s list of lowest performing schools and the district’s Innovation Zone has boosted test scores at a faster rate than the state’s district. Schools across the state are looking to strategies in Memphis to improve schools — a far cry from six years ago. And recently, Hopson was among nine finalists for a national award recognizing urban district leaders.

Hopson’s evaluation for last school year is expected to be presented at the board’s work session Tuesday, Nov. 27.

Board members also briefly acknowledged it has been three years since the panel has done a self-evaluation to make sure they are doing what they need to do to govern well.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.