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VOL. 127 | NO. 95 | Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Seven Schools Chosen For ‘Innovation Zone’ Program

By Bill Dries

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Those planning the new consolidated countywide school system to come in August 2013 now have a list of seven elementary and middle schools that will be part of a federally funded “innovation zone.”

The $14.7 million federal education funding over three years will begin with the 2012-2013 school year and continue into the next school year, which is the first year of the merger.

The schools in the zone to be run by the Memphis City Schools system and to use new practices, including extended learning time and new technology, are Chickasaw, Hamilton and Geeter middle schools as well as Fairley, Ford Road, Lucie E. Campbell and Magnolia elementary schools.

The announcement last week is one more detail of what will happen at specific schools once the merger takes place. The innovation funding and school selection is one of several schools reform efforts that will be part of the merger plan being drawn up by schools consolidation planning commission.

But like the state-run Achievement School District, it is an element that would be happening even without the schools merger. Both initiatives aimed at low performing schools are part of broader statewide education reform measures.

The ASD includes three elementary and middle schools in Frayser that will be run by the state as well as three schools in other parts of the city in which the ASD has recruited charter schools that will be phased into those already existing conventional schools.

The planning commission has proposed a school system structure in which there would be an office of innovation with a director reporting to the countywide schools superintendent. The superintendent of the Achievement Schools District is appointed by the Tennessee Governor and reports to the governor and the state commissioner of education.

The planning commission has proposed closing 21 schools to create a countywide school system that reflects school age population shifts from the western parts of the city to the eastern city and county outside the city. But the commission hasn’t said which schools should be closed, leaving that decision up to the countywide school board.

The overall school structure plan is to be approved by the countywide school board and state education officials in August.

And some of the decisions the planning commission has started making recently are in areas close to the line that separates the commission from the school board.

Recommendations last week from the planning commission’s human resources committee include “not guaranteeing jobs to teachers whose positions have been eliminated.” Under current Memphis City Schools procedures, when a teacher’s position is eliminated at a school or the teacher is not retained at that school, their seniority can allow them to “bump” another teacher at another school if the teacher without a position has more seniority.

The recommendations the planning commission will discuss further and could vote on this week would also redesign teacher and principal pay based on “sustained effectiveness and not on degree attained.”

“We all know this is a marked departure from the current Memphis agreement,” planning commissioner Christine Richards said of the labor contract between MCS and the Memphis Education Association, the union representing teachers.

The Shelby County Education Association representing Shelby County Schools teachers is not a collective bargaining organization.

“If we go forward with this, they’re not going to have the agreement they have today. This is not a popularity contest,” Richards added after walking others on the body through the still-forming proposals for evaluations of teachers and principals.

The evaluations will be used to guide professional development efforts to help teachers improve.

“That is really the core of making sure we have effective teachers,” Richards added before turning to the goal that is the bottom line after the efforts at professional development. “We cannot allow people to be teachers who do not provide an opportunity for growth and learning for our children.”

There would be more pay for teachers who want to teach in low performing schools or teach subjects that are hard to staff, under the recommendations.

Hiring of teachers would be by “mutual consent” of the teacher and his or her principal.

And teachers as well as principals would have weekly “protected time” for each to review student performance data and how they are affecting student performance.

“If we do that our goal is to develop every single person who is currently working in the combined school districts into an effective teacher and to celebrate those who are already highly effective at teaching,” Richards said. “But we are also going to have to build into our thinking what is the process we are going to use to respectfully and fairly address those who cannot meet the expectations of the new educational system and its goals.”

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