As Shelby County’s two school systems moved from a consolidation question to a consolidation process and then a reformation that includes the possibility of municipal school districts, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been consistent.
The reforms and research on teacher effectiveness and retaining effective teachers in Memphis City Schools that it is funding over several years with $90 million and another $20 million in local matching private funding will continue, leaders of the foundation have said.
With those making decisions about the structure and content of the new consolidated district about to start the political heavy lifting, the foundation is making its case for keeping the Teacher Effectiveness Initiative after the August 2013 merger date.
A group of political heavyweights including Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell will be at a Thursday, April 12, rally at The Racquet Club of Memphis. So will leaders of the local nonprofits working with the Gates Foundation.
Meanwhile, a group of religious leaders under the banner “Clergy United for the Memphis Schools” surfaced Tuesday, April 10, to also support keeping TEI. The group is a project of the national organization “Shepherding the Next Generation.” It is a coalition of Christian ministry leaders whose efforts include parent coaching and early education programs.
And the group’s literature clearly reads “major funding for Clergy United for the Memphis Schools is provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.”
“All of us also live in the real world,” said the Rev. Brandon Walker, pastor of New Shelby Missionary Baptist Church in Collierville and director of the Memphis group. “We are here today to put our feet on the ground and to do some work.”
That work includes a “Sunday Celebration of Teachers” at various churches across the county on April 29. Walker and the three other leaders announcing the effort focused on the city schools.
“We’re not education experts,” Walker said when asked if the group would like to see the TEI measures extended to Shelby County Schools. “But we do believe what we’ve seen in the TEI work is a great mechanism. I personally would want to see it continue.”
Rabbi Micah Greenstein of Temple Israel said the group is a new version of “Clergy for Equitable Education,” a group of religious leaders formed two years ago.
“All private schools and faith academies aside, is or is not equitable quality education for all children in Shelby County a religious moral and theological imperative?” Greenstein said in phrasing the basic questions surrounding involvement of the clergy. “Is the best education for the 150,000 children in Shelby County, 85 percent of whom will not fit in our religious schools or even private schools that are non-sectarian – is concern for their welfare a religious imperative? … Our faith demands it. … And so does the value of a teacher.”
The group, which also includes the Rev. Bartholomew Orr, pastor of Brown Missionary Baptist Church in Southaven and the Rev. Christopher Davis of St. Paul Baptist Church, said the effort will also attempt to emphasize the importance of teaching as a profession and a calling.