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VOL. 127 | NO. 42 | Thursday, March 01, 2012

ASD Spells Out School Changes

By Bill Dries

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Now that the state’s Achievement School District has named the three Memphis City Schools in which it will run charter schools and three others that will be run by the state as neighborhood schools, the move to a swift transition by August begins.

The superintendent of the state-run district for the bottom 5 percent of schools across the state in terms of student performance was in the six schools affected Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 27-28.

ASD superintendent Chris Barbic said he’s preparing teachers and staff for a process that includes them reapplying for their jobs.

“There’s no preconceived notions about anybody there. This isn’t meant to be a hatchet job,” Barbic said. “We want to get to know the folks in the building and really make sure that the folks who want to continue at the school with the ASD are given an opportunity to do that.”

Lester Elementary, Gordon Elementary and Cypress Middle will have state-run charter schools starting in August when the 2012-2013 school year begins.

Lester’s model will be a charter school that over two years replaces the existing school, while Gordon and Cypress’ charter models will “cohabitate” with what’s already in place.

Corning Elementary, Frayser Elementary and Westside Middle – all part of the same schools-feeder pattern in Frayser – will be run by the state as “achievement schools” that retain their status as neighborhood schools starting in August.

Barbic was among those involved in schools reform who fielded questions at Hutchison School Tuesday, Feb. 28, from students at that school as well as Briarcrest Christian School and Memphis University School.

The “Landscapes in Public Education” forum was sponsored by the Kemmons Wilson Family Foundation.

Barbic urged the group of 100 students to pursue teaching as a career.

“The most patriotic thing you can do is teach,” he said. “Even if it’s only for a few years.”

The last part of the comment is also an indicator of what Barbic believes might be a new career trajectory that upends the traditional concept of a schoolteacher who stays for an entire working life or close to it.

“Once we get great people in education, what’s a realistic timeline for how long people should teach?” asked Barbic, whose mother is a still-active, 30-year-career teacher. “I think at the end of the day, we’d rather have somebody teach for one year if they’re going to be great than a mediocre teacher for 10 or 15. This idea that we beat ourselves up every time a great teacher leaves the classroom after three, four or five years – great people aren’t doing the same job right out of college for more than a few years anyway.”

But the Memphis City Schools Teacher Effectiveness Initiative, partially funded with money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is built on concept of reversing MCS trends in which 40 percent of MCS teachers leave the school system within three years of getting hired.

One of its goals is longer teacher retention as well as more professional development and evaluation that is, in part, tied to student performance.

Barbara Prescott, chairwoman of the schools consolidation planning commission, agreed with Barbic on the need for that development and assessment if not on the questions about changing teacher career trajectories.

“You also have to develop talent,” Prescott said. “When you’re merging these two school systems and it will be a large school district, we can’t fire our way into having good teachers. We just can’t do that. … You have to let them observe themselves on video. You have to let them have peer observations and really ask themselves, ‘How can I get better?’ not ‘How bad am I?’”

The student questions included queries about how much the coming Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools merger will change the daily life of public schools in Shelby County for students and teachers.

Prescott said most of the noticeable changes won’t be a result of the merger.

“There will be changes with teachers along the way, but not specifically because of the merger,” she said, adding the job of implementing the changes coming to teacher evaluations and assignments outside the merger process will be up to the countywide school board.

“I don’t think the merger will have nearly as much of an impact on that as will the programs and initiatives that are happening.”

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