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Outsiders get a view of Memphis City Schools' vision

NOTE: With $90 million for the Gates Foundation, a grant "to improve how teachers are hired, promoted and paid," here are the results after seven months:

  • Memphis puts The New Teacher Project in charge of teacher recruiting and hiring

  • Memphis finds 125 classes without teachers when school opens

  • Memphis finds some classes with no student desks

  • Victoria Van Cleef's bio is interesting. Note that "teacher recruiting and hiring: is a "new business line" for The New Teacher Project:

    Victoria Van Cleef is the Vice President of Staffing Initiatives for The New Teacher Project, and is charged with growing this new business line. She oversees projects that focus on building school-level capacity to make effective hires and staffing chronically low-performing schools. In her previous role as Vice President of Business Development & Communications, she oversaw the establishment of TNTP's partnerships with school districts, state departments of education and other educational organizations, and managed the organization's marketing strategy and goals. Prior to joining The New Teacher Project, Victoria served as a consultant to the Stupski Foundation, identifying best practices to support whole district reform efforts, and as Senior Research Associate and Special Assistant to the Dean of New York University's Steinhardt School of Education, coordinating projects devoted to strengthening the teacher force in high-need districts. She has served as Special Assistant to the Chancellor for the New York City public schools under two administrations, working on both instructional and operational initiatives. Victoria has also worked in curriculum and product development for The Efficacy Institute, a national non-profit educational consulting firm. She holds a BA in Classical Civilizations from the University of California at Los Angeles and a Master's in Public Policy Analysis from New York University's Wagner School of Public Service

    Van Cleef says, "59 percent (of the openings) come from things we can work with." Don't you wonder about those 41% they can't work with?

    by Jane Roberts

    After seven months of pounding out teacher recruiting strategies and ways to make tenure meaningful, Memphis City Schools invited outsiders in Friday to see the results (and the places they might expect to stub their toes).

    Nearly 300 accepted the invitation, largely from the five-state area, although the roster included experts from Carnegie Foundation, Harvard and the heads of New Leaders for New Schools and The New Teacher Project, both nationally recognized reform groups.

    "Yes, we won the Gates grant, but there are other cities that have similar issues that Memphis has," said district spokesman Quintin Taylor.

    "We have an obligation to share and exchange good ideas amongst each other and not work in a vacuum."

    "Districts generally look inward," said Tim Daly, president of The New Teacher Project, praising the city schools system for its openness.

    While the outcome of the reform is unknown, "I think everyone here knows Memphis has taken the step."

    The centerpiece of discussion was MCS's $90 million blueprint (funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) to improve how teachers are hired, promoted and paid.

    This year, for instance, MCS filled vacancies in the most troubled schools first, presumably giving students there a crack at the best hires. Since few teachers with high seniority wanted to move to those schools, there were few seniority squabbles.

    As the district expands the arc of need, more contention is expected.

    Friday, Daly was one of three "thought leaders" in a free-ranging workshop discussion on making smarter teacher-hiring decisions, a central plank of the Memphis plan.

    "Was there anything worse than you expected?" he asked people on the frontlines here.

    "No, not so much. But wait until next year," said Chantay Branch, MCS facilitator in the discussion.

    Memphis teachers are deeply wedded to a seniority system that rewards them with first pick of job openings, she said. If more of those openings go to new hires, the calm of this year's hiring season could change, she said.

    Participants came from as far away as Denver and Boston.

    "It's important to go to places where you can see the vision," said Brenda Bowles, assistant superintendent in Pulaski County Special School District in Little Rock. "If you can't see it, you can't conceive it."

    MCS invited leaders from 26 districts; 19 accepted. Food, lodging and registration for nearly 300 people was covered by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

    The hiring hitch was a new state rule that forced Tennessee districts to replace principals who've spent two or more years in a failing school.

    Hundreds of teachers leery of an unknown principal pressed for transfers, moving the number of Human Resources "touches" from an expected 700 to 1,675 -- more than 600 of them internal transfers.

    Instead of opening school this fall with every classroom staffed, the crunch meant 125 classes had no teacher, including English and math classes at Central High, where some students still do not have desks.

    By July and August, there were still 569 vacancies -- including "last-minute retirements and resignations," said Victoria Van Cleef, with The New Teacher Project, in charge of MCS teacher recruiting and hiring.

    "But 59 percent (of the openings) come from things we can work with," Van Cleef said, including when teachers give notice of plans to leave.

    The three-day conference wraps up today at the FedEx Institute of Technology.

    — Jane Roberts
    Commercial Appeal





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