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NCLB Outrages

Memphis School Board Proposes to Fire Staffs of 22 Lowest-Performing Schools

Ohanian Comment: In a rage when I first read this story, I replied with sarcasm, suggesting that maybe the faculties at the 22 lowest performing schools should just switch places with the faculties of the 22 highest performing schools. Then watch what happens. The Blame the teachers policy of school reconstitution is ugly and ill-informed. But so is Blame the students. Or Blame the parents. Instead of pointing fingers people who care about the welfare of children must take a serious look at poverty. Teachers are an easy target. So are parents. Instead, we should blame the absence of a living wage, adequate housing and health care.

A Vermont principal said NCLB should be retitled "No Chance of Looking Better." I am very worried about the destructive quality of the "corrective action" described below.

Cindy Whitmore is more than a seventh-grade math teacher at Sherwood Middle School.

She is a social worker. She is a psychologist. And she is a surrogate mother and sister to students at Sherwood.

Now - thanks to a new Memphis City school board proposal to rebuild 22 of the lowest-performing schools from scratch - Whitmore also is among hundreds of teachers who could lose their jobs.

Board members Lora Jobe and Michael Hooks Jr. presented plans Monday night to fire all teachers, principals and support personnel at the 22 schools named to "corrective action" by the state last week. Sherwood Middle is among them.

Anyone who wishes to stay at his or her school would have to reapply for the job.

The schools landed under corrective action after student achievement consistently fell below federal and state standards for the third year, placing the schools on the brink of state takeover.

"When you say to a school that you're an 'F', you're applying this one blanket statement and telling us we're failing, like we're not working," said Whitmore, adding that Sherwood's nearly 98 percent poverty rate forces teachers there to deal with far more than test scores. "We deal with kids coming here without shoes and proper clothing or backpacks. Yes, we're working here. Come be with us. See what we're doing."

The school board had little discussion on the proposal Monday night, as it was brought up at 9:30 and nearly half the board had already left. The board is expected to discuss the proposal and vote on it at its next meeting Sept. 22.

The proposal is just a draft, Hooks said, adding that resuscitating these schools will take more than firing existing staff.

Healing the schools will mean using salary incentives to bring the district's best teachers to the struggling schools.

"We've got to find a way to bring those teachers who are comfortable at White Station to a Manassas," Hooks said. "I read somewhere that some of these corrective action schools, you've got, like, 40 percent of teachers that are uncertified or teaching in areas that are not their content areas. We can't keep doing that."

Jobe and Hooks also are looking for ways to get businesses and public groups like Partners in Public Education (PIPE) to adopt schools and pay for salary incentives, better technology, better textbooks and other supplies.

The bottom of Jobe's and Hooks's proposal reads: "This action should not be deemed punitive but in the best interest of educating children."

That offers little comfort to teachers like Whitmore and Spring Hill Elementary teacher Gloria Rankin.

"They're not looking at the whole picture," Rankin said. "They're looking for someone to blame."

Also Monday, the school board mulled over a contract for incoming Supt. Carol Johnson. The board is set to vote on the contract Sept. 22.

Under preliminary negotiations between the Memphis City Schools and Johnson, the new superintendent would receive a $200,500 salary - roughly $40,500 more than she's earning now as the Minneapolis public schools chief, but the same salary as Supt. Johnnie Watson.

Johnson's term would begin Oct. 6 and end June 30, 2007. She is also asking that the district pay the 5 percent contribution she would be expected to make to the state pension plan.

— Ruma Banerji Kumar
Board to mull firing failing-school staffs
Comerical Appeal


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