Tennessee

Only two bills still alive out of 22 to limit the state’s school turnaround district

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier
Protests over the state takeover of American Way Middle School, which is in Rep. Raumesh Akbari's district in Memphis, motivated her to file legislation designed to limit the power of the state's Achievement School District.

Two months after the leader of the state’s school turnaround district implored lawmakers to give the sweeping program time to succeed or fail, it appears that Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD) will weather the legislative session intact.

As the 109th General Assembly enters its final month, only two of 22 bills to limit the district’s authority are left standing. Of those, ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic had input in both.

The remaining two bills were approved Wednesday by the Senate Education Committee.

The first, introduced by Rep. Harold Love (D-Nashville) and Sen. Reginald Tate (D-Memphis), requires the state Department of Education to notify schools that they are in the bottom 10 percent of Tennessee schools a year before the release of the state’s priority list, which identifies the bottom 5 percent and makes them vulnerable to state takeover. The intention is to give struggling schools time to improve before the state intervenes.

The second bill, sponsored by Tate and Rep. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis), prohibits the ASD from taking over schools with high student growth scores.

The House sponsors of both bills said they were willing to compromise with officials from the ASD and the state Education Department because they want results for their constituents. More sweeping legislation – such as bills to abolish the school district altogether – never received motions for discussion, much less votes.

Love and Akbari revised their bills after talking with officials from the ASD and the Education Department, which Barbic said he appreciated. “We want to make sure folks understand what we’re doing, and sit down and have those conversations,” he said.

Akbari and Love told Chalkbeat they don’t oppose the ASD, but they do oppose the district’s process for state intervention. They said their constituents often feel bullied by the district’s rapid action.

“It may take a few years for [the ASD] to be more palatable [to constituents] because, right now, it’s viewed as an intrusion — let me use better words — it’s viewed as a takeover,” Love said. “Anything like that happens and it hurts the chances of successes.”

The bill to give warning to struggling schools is scheduled to be discussed April 7 in the House Education Administration and Planning Committee. The bill to prohibit takeover of schools with high TVAAS scores is slated for consideration April 8 in the House Finance subcommittee.

The legislative climate for the ASD today has improved somewhat since February when Barbic – besieged by legislative proposals targeting the 4-year-old district – testified before the Senate Education Committee. “There’s 22 bills that have been filed right now that are either trying to kill [the ASD] or pull it apart, and this thing hasn’t even gotten out of the petri dish,” Barbic said amidst a lengthy discussion.

Akbari and Love had filed other bills intended to curb the ASD’s intervention process. Both moved to disallow phase-in models, in which the ASD’s charter operator takes over a school only one grade at a time while the local district continues to operate the remaining grades. They argued that the model – known as co-location – hurts students in older grades who are stuck in a school that the state has labeled as failing.

“I had one parent tell me it was like some children were going to this new special school, and other children were just getting the resources leftover,” Akbari said. “And I don’t want any child to feel like that.”

Shelby County Schools no longer allows the ASD to co-locate with their schools, which was a contributing factor in a decision last week by YES Prep, a Texas-based charter operator, to pull out of Memphis.

Love also originally had filed a bill to forbid the ASD from adding grades that the school didn’t serve before its takeover. For instance, the LEAD charter network, which will operate Neely’s Bend Middle School in Nashville, is considering eventually adding a high school at that location.

Follow the status of education-related bills in the 109th Tennessee General Assembly.
Follow the status of education-related bills in the 109th Tennessee General Assembly.

Ultimately, Akbari and Love said they focused on the two bills that have the best chance of passing.

“The other bills, you know, they’re so important to me,” Akbari said. “But I don’t think we can get any sort of support for them [this year], and that’s the key.”

However, Akbari said the ASD and its work will remain a subject for potential future legislation. “I am not going to let the issue fade into the sunset,” she said. “These issues are too important for those who live in Memphis.”

Contact Grace Tatter at [email protected]

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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.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.