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NCLB Outrages

Memphis School Board Member Wants to Axe Teachers and Administrators

Ohanian Comment: It's hard to see how a district can heal from such ugliness. Our federal government at work.
A Memphis school board member wants to flush bad teachers and administrators out of the city's 22 worst-performing schools.

On Friday, it appeared Lora Jobe had a preliminary go-ahead from Gov. Phil Bredesen, state Education Commissioner Lana Seivers and Memphis Supt. Johnnie Watson.

But they're not enough. She'll need majority support from the school board to make the bold move - and that's still up in the air.

She plans to propose revamping the 22 schools - which have spent three years on the state's low-performers list and are close to state takeover - at Monday's school board meeting.

There would be no vote then, but a discussion is likely.

"There's no point in waiting another two years and watching them drop lower and lower on the list," she said.

She envisions restaffing the schools by looking at data to see which teachers and principals are effective and which aren't.

That could mean firing some teachers and administrators, or reassigning them.

Jobe's proposal is feasible with school board, state officials' and the Memphis superintendent's support, said Connie Smith, accountability director for the state education department.

"It'll be difficult. I mean, we're in a state that has 400 to 600 teachers on permits and waivers because we don't have enough licensed teachers around, so it would be hard to find a large pool of qualified teachers to staff these schools," Smith said. "But every year you wait, you widen the achievement gap."

Jobe's move would set a precedent statewide, Smith said.

State law allows the state's education department to work with local school districts to restructure the worst-performing schools by hiring new staff and administrators, or even make them charter schools.

But the proposal to start now is likely to be controversial in a community still reeling from Thursday's release of the state's list of "target schools" and "high priority schools."

Memphis City Schools had 149 schools on the list thanks to tougher No Child Left Behind standards that require across-the-board gains in reading and math among all students, as well as special education, English as a second language and poor students.

A local teachers union president is wary and hopes the union is involved in drafting plans for restructuring the 22 schools.

"You don't just throw the baby out with the bath water," said Lola Bolden, president of the Memphis Education Association.

The MEA represents more than 8,000 teachers in Memphis City Schools.

The MEA doesn't want bad teachers, either, Bolden said.

"If you look at the schools on the list, are all the teachers there bad? Are all those principals there bad? What if they're there because you don't have parental involvement? What if you have children who don't care to learn? There are many issues that are at work here."

Board members Sara Lewis and Michael Hooks Jr. support Jobe's idea but say rebuilding the troubled schools will take a plan to improve curriculum and classroom technology, not just gutting staff.

School board member Wanda Halbert said the proposal is too extreme and she'd like to see the schools get another chance.

"I want to make sure we've done everything possible inside those schools before we begin taking these people's livelihoods away," Halbert said.

— Ruma Banerji Kumar
Jobe: Dismiss staff at failing schools


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