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NCLB Outrages

Memphis Teachers Get the Shaft

When you treat teachers as so much surplus furniture, it will come back to haunt you. And every teacher in America should realize: As more and more schools get failing labels from NCLB, you can be next.

Look at the Newspaper headline. "Fresh Start," indeed. And the Memphis Education Association position is "get used to it."

Fresh Start Gears up at 5 schools
Parents, teachers brace for moves

Gloria Harris and her junior high school principal were reunited under unusual circumstances.

Harris went looking for details of a city schools plan to bring in new teachers and administrators this fall at her son's school.

In walked Dan Ward, a deputy superintendent who led Vance Middle School when Harris attended in the early 1970s.

Harris, 45, president of Vance's Parent-Teacher Organization, saw it as a good omen.

"I like everything I've heard today," she said Friday. "I just want to see it start."

She gave the upbeat assessment as administrators moved to put Supt. Carol Johnson's Fresh Start plan in place for Vance, Fairview, Georgian Hills, Longview, and Winchester.

The city schools chief declared 169 teachers and staff members at the five schools as surplus and named new principals. The five schools have combined enrollment of 2,520.

A number of issues remain to be resolved, including financial incentives to attract teachers to Fresh Start schools. The incentives have to be funded by the school board and OK'd by the teacher union.

Current personnel like Terri Brown, a guidance counselor at Vance, can apply for their old jobs but aren't guaranteed to get them. The new principals will get more leeway than usual to hire their teachers.

The district is expected to post the jobs as vacant in coming days.

Brown said Johnson's announcement shocked Vance's faculty.

"It caught us by surprise because we didn't hear about it until the general public heard it," she said.

Teachers know student achievement is lacking. Vance got F's and a couple of C's on the last two state report cards. But teachers and staff also see firsthand the dire social problems the school isn't equipped to address, Brown said.

Harris, who has led the PTO since last September, was under no illusions. It won't be easy to solve Vance's problems and get it off a list of 22 failing city schools that are one step away from being eligible for state takeover.

The school at 673 Vance is in one of the city's poorest areas. Parent involvement is weak - PTO meetings usually attract only a few parents.

Many of 544 students don't come properly prepared to learn. "We have kids who leave here and don't see an adult until they come back to school the next day," Harris said.

In the first in a series of meetings at affected schools, Ward had some, but not all of the answers sought by Harris and eight other parents.

He didn't know how long the district would give the new principals and their staffs to improve student achievement.

Cheryl Crawford, mother of a Vance seventh-grader, wanted to know about exceptional teachers.

"Will we have any say about who we can keep?" she asked.

Ward said parents should meet with Vance's new principal, Bettye Sims, as soon as possible and state their wishes about personnel.

He said Sims was getting trained and couldn't come to Friday's meeting.

City schools spokeswoman Nikita Flynn said the surplus teachers were given extra time last week to seek voluntary transfers to other schools. More than 300 vacancies were posted systemwide May 3.

Teachers who don't take voluntary transfers and don't get hired at their old schools would be able to seek jobs at a surplus fair at the Teaching & Learning Academy June 14, Flynn said.

The Memphis Education Association gave Johnson broad authority for a Fresh Start effort in the contract governing teacher pay and working conditions, MEA president Lola Bolden said. Bolden said, "People don't like change. We just have to get used to it."

Teachers work hard, she said. "They're doing everything they can to improve the test scores," Bolden said. "But there are so many things they have no control over."

— Wayne Risher
Fresh Start gears up at 5 schools
Commercial Appeal


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