More than 200 teachers complain about pay, evaluation at board meeting

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier
In 2014, Shelby County School teachers protest a bonus pay plan similar to the one Knox County teachers sued the state over.

More than 200 teachers protested changes to the evaluation process and stagnated salaries at the Shelby County Schools board meeting Tuesday.

Keith Williams, the president of the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association, has spent the last several weeks rallying teachers to protest what they say are unfair policies and budget cuts that have hurt morale for the district’s 8,000 teachers.

Over the summer, the advocacy organization filed several lawsuits to save the jobs of hundreds of laid off and excessed tenured teachers. Earlier this month, they held a press conference in which several of those teachers told their emotional stories – one teacher feared losing her home while another had a friend help her with money for gas.

On Tuesday, teachers packed the board room, some stood against the walls and others spilled out into the hallway to attend the meeting. Sixteen people, mostly educators, addressed the board during public comment.

Their complaints came shortly after district officials lauded schools across the county for dramatic gains in state tests scores they partially attributed to the teachers’ hard work in the classrooms.

Teachers holding signs told board members Tuesday they were concerned about the fairness of the district’s updated evaluation system, TEM (Teacher Effectiveness Measure) 4; that some tenured teachers whose positions were cut last spring were still waiting to be hired by the district and that the performance bonuses the district doled out last year were not a substitute for an anticipated salary increase.

Teachers currently working in the district will receive a bonus based on their overall evaluation score from 2013-14 starting at $250 for Level I and Level II teachers, $650 for Level III, $800 for Level IV and $1,250 for Level V.  Teachers have said they prefer an annual salary increase that would impact their lifetime earnings; a one-time bonus, they said, does not. Retired educators will not receive the bonus, which is another issue the association believes is unfair.

Educators grumbled in disagreement Tuesday night as Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II argued that the bonuses gave teachers more income than if they were given incremental raises.

In addition to disagreement over the bonus pay plan, teachers complained that the newly adjusted evaluations, which will go into effect this year, made it impossible to receive the highest score.

Williams said there are now 69 objectives that a teacher must demonstrate during an observation period.

“No observer could document that many objectives that would allow a teacher a teacher to earn a 5,” he said. “We want the board to remove the requirement for teachers to meet ‘all’ objectives.”

Margaret Box, a kindergarten teacher who had been on a team that drafted the evaluation plan in 2011 said that the updated evaluation had not been created with teachers’ assistance and made it very difficult to earn a top score.

“You said TEM 4 is a leap forward,” said Box. “It’s a step forward to a checklist, and to fewer level 5 teachers. I wanted to plant the seed that we can fix this.”

Hopson told the crowd that some of teachers’ complaints apply to only a small number of staff. “There’s a lot of discussion of evaluations being unfair. But as far as the performance-based bonuses, when we do the calculation, 80 percent of teachers are level 4 and 5, and 95 percent are 3, 4, and 5.” Teachers with higher evaluation scores received larger bonuses last school year.

“In many cases, bonuses are larger than step increases would have been,” Hopson said. Several teachers audibly disagreed.

But he said that other concerns, including the high cost of health insurance and lack of salary increases, would be taken up by the board and district later this year.

Board member Teresa Jones wasn’t worried that the decisions would impact the district’s ability to keep or attract teachers.

“I value them and the work they do,” said Jones, adding that she’s heard teachers’ complaints about the revised evaluation system multiple times. “They don’t like it, they’ve said it’s a moving target in terms of what’s expected.  I would’ve felt more comfortable if we’d had a test run with the evaluation model, but we didn’t.”

Earlier in the meeting close to 50 principals in the district were honored at a short ceremony for schools that had earned earned their way on to the state’s “Reward” list, for high-achieving or fast-improving schools; or for earning their way off of the list of lowest-scoring schools. The district has set a goal of improving academics and graduation rate districtwide.

“I wish we could have had every teacher from the Reward Schools here, but that wasn’t feasible…but I always try to recognize and thank our great teachers for the tremendous results we received this year and over the years,” Hopson said.

Hopson said he will meet with teachers on Sept. 4.


call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”