Literacy

As first concrete step of reading initiative, McQueen seeks educators for Early Literacy Council

The Department of Education announced it is seeking applications from community members and educators to advise officials on early literacy.

A month after the Tennessee Department of Education shared plans for a massive initiative targeting the state’s lackluster reading scores, officials are seeking educators to advise them on how to increase the number of students reading on grade level by the end of third grade.

Educators will be selected for the Early Literacy Council through an application process, and paid to attend meetings throughout the upcoming winter and spring, where state officials will get their feedback on literacy policy for students grades K-3.

State officials will tap the educators to help them decide how to assess the literacy skills of the state’s youngest students and to figure out what to include in summer training about early literacy next year. The educators will even help the state figure out just what it means when it refers to “third-grade readiness,” the term the state uses as the goal for its early literacy push.

The early literacy panel is the latest effort to include teacher voice in state education policymaking, after Education Commissioner Candice McQueen’s predecessor, Kevin Huffman, often was criticized for not engaging with principals and teachers. Since McQueen took over the department in January, she has assembled a testing task force and convened the first-ever meeting of the Governor’s Teachers Cabinet.

The spirit of community input extends beyond the Department of Education: Every Tennessean was invited to review the state’s academic standards earlier this year. A panel of teachers is finalizing proposed revisions to the standards based on the public feedback this month, and sending them to another panel of educators appointed by legislative leaders. 

The Early Literacy Council is the first piece to the literacy initiatives McQueen announced in August, called “Ready to Read” in “Ready to Be Ready” after TNReady, the state’s new test. She has not yet released a detailed timeline of how that challenge will be tackled, though McQueen promised bolstered teacher preparation and training around literacy, and a greater emphasis on helping students read before they enter kindergarten.

Just 48.4 percent of students in grades 3-8 were considered proficient in reading on this year’s TCAP,  down from a peak of 50.5 percent in 2013 and 49.5 percent last year, a state of affairs McQueen said was “a moral and ethical dilemma.”

The application is on the department of education’s blog, and is due Sept. 16.

This story has been corrected to reflect that the application is due Sept. 16, not Sept. 18.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.