Friday, November 9, 2012

ASD Tripling in Size for 2013-14. You're Welcome, Memphis.

Yesterday, Jane Roberts covered the ASD's takeover of 10 more MCS schools.  This year, MCS transferred five schools to the Achievement School District, and Nashville transferred one.  The ASD plans for 18 schools next year, but I haven't yet seen it reported where the remaining two schools are located in Tennessee.  Despite the ASD's ability to employ a variety of PR professionals, there is nothing about this expansion on their website as of this writing, a full day after the article appeared online at the Commercial Appeal.

Unlike last year, where the ASD unilaterally announced which schools it was taking, this year, a "panel of citizens serving on the Achievement Advisory Council will recommend which schools should be taken over and which charter operators might best serve the community. ASD leaders will make the final decision and announce the matches Dec. 17.  Officials are hosting a series of meetings Thursday to explain the matching process and gather public comment about what Memphians want the schools to be."  The Achievement Advisory Council will be choosing 10 schools from a list of 14.

Last year the shadiness of the ASD's selection centered around its stated plan to want to affect feeder patterns.  It took five schools in one feeder pattern in Frayser.  But it also took one school not anywhere close to that feeder pattern.  The one NOT in the feeder pattern claims to have been founded in 2009, but did not serve any students until the 2010-11 school year when it operated as a private, religious school.  It operated for two years, serving kindergarteners in its first year, and kindergarterners and first graders in its second year.  Having taken over the lower grades of Lester Elementary in its third year of existence (and without ever administering a TCAP), Cornerstone Prep now serves K-3.  Associated very closely with prominent East Memphis church, Christ United Methodist Church and with Staley Cates' Poplar Foundation, Cornerstone Prep has some useful political connections.  Just to connect the dots:  Staley Cates was Governor Haslam's appointee to the TPC.

So is there hope this year for a more transparent, less political process?  Perhaps.  Sounds like the meetings are hosted by the ASD, but it is not clear that anyone on the Achievement Advisory Council would attend, or whether they are interested in actual public input on which schools should be selected.  "[G]ather[ing] public comment about what Memphis want the schools to be" is very different from being at all interested in whether Memphians want the ASD in their neighborhoods, and is an overt acknowledgment that neighborhoods will not have the choice to keep their schools - even where they are experiencing significant improvment - in the same form that they currently exist.

And lest we not forget, MCS is considering what to do with the TPC's recommendation to close 21 schools in the NW and SW quadrants of Memphis.  Superintendent Kriner Cash has openly scoffed at the recommendation, and seems to be compiling his own list in the 6-8 school range - independently, of course, from the joint Transition Steering Committee which one might have guessed would lead that decision-making process.  So why wouldn't the ASD want to go ahead and decide - independently of any actions ongoing in the district - what it wants to do, and force the district staff to adjust?

I suspect that the ASD would want you to know about its five meetings in five days in neighborhoods throughout Memphis.  Sounds like a good community engagement plan, right?  Except that two of the meetings were earlier tonight, both at the same time, and the next three are on Monday all at the same time.  That's a little divide-and-conquer for you.  Any troublemakers will get a comparatively small audience, there might be a slightly different message at each, and any organized effort to populate the meetings (hello, MEA) will be thwarted - all while the ASD proclaims its efforts to get to know the neighborhoods.  I'm already getting rumblings that the meeting at Pursuit of God Church did not go well, and that the crowd was unfriendly.  Wish I could have gone, but let's hope that a reporter was there to tell us what happened - since even if I'd gone to one meeting, I wouldn't have known what happened at the other . . .

Not having attended a meeting (YET) - I'm very interested in how the ASD will attempt to control the conversation.  Will they require identifying information before taking the comments?  Will they want questions written out on index cards?  Will they offer brainstorming opportunities in small groups to keep anyone from addressing the larger group?

So this is not the post where I air my [litany of] grievances against the ASD - Festivus is still over a month away, after all.  But it must be mentioned that the ASD has very real consequences on the schools that it takes over.  The article mentions that staff were notified of the possible change "out of respect" and that teachers were encouraged to apply to work for the ASD.  So let's be clear what this is about:  ten MCS schools are closing, and the building staff (mainly made up of teachers) is being told that they likely will not have jobs at those schools next year.  Since MCS is not currently considering an external hiring freeze, the teaching staff at 10 schools will be competing for jobs in the newly merged school district against the next cohort of Teach for America Memphis and new grads.  The MEA contract expires next summer, so as of next fall, it is unclear whether seniority will still be a thing.  This means layoffs, and at least some layoffs of effective teachers who are unable to find jobs in the merged district. 

So while Memphis is still trying to decide whether it should be grateful for the ASD or not, the ASD is giving us a hearty "You're Welcome."  Nothing to see here, keep moving, you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.

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