Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Last Minute School Closings Coming. Thanks, ASD.

School closings are controversial and contribute to instability in already vulnerable communities.  I view school takeovers with the same critical view, with particular concern about the often patronizing - we know better - attitude of transplanted charter operators. 

Before Thanksgiving, we knew that a high number of school closings were coming.  Really, we'd known that since the spring of 2012 between the ASD's stated intentions and the Transition Planning Commission recommendations.  But as of November, we still had no details about which schools and neighborhoods would be most affected.  The announcements soon came hard and fast.  I recently wrote about the seeming decline in the ASD's expansion.

If my readers don't know, there's a weekly WKNO program hosted by Eric Barnes, the publisher of the Memphis Daily News.  He and other local journalists interview local newsmakers, usually with a political focus.  I've added a "page" on the right-hand side of the blog for easy access.  Anyway, last Friday (Feb. 22, 2013), ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic was interviewed by Barnes, his journo Bill Dries, and Eleanor Boudreau of WKNO Radio.  The video isn't up yet, I'll post it when I see it.  A transcript of the interview is available here.

Lots of background to tell you that there is no decline in the ASD's expansion.  During the interview, ASD Supt. Chris Barbic stated that the ASD will open ten schools in Memphis for the 2013-14 school year.  This would not be news, except for the fact that the ASD has only announced that it will open six schools in the fall.

The ASD announced that it will close and takeover six schools:  Whitney, Georgian Hills, Hanley, Klondike, and Shannon Elementary Schools, and Corry Middle School.  Cornerstone Prep announced that it will take over Lester Middle next year.  So it is unclear whether the ASD would say that it has announced that it will take over six or seven schools for takeover, depending on whether they consider Cornerstone's announcement as a new announcement or not.

Here's the exchange from the Behind the Headlines interview: 

Barnes:  Now I’m going to come back to Humes and Gordon in a second.  But just a quick, you’ll add how many schools in next year?

Barbic:  Next year we plan to add ten schools.  Two that we’ll run ourselves, so two more in Frayser.  And then we will have eight charter schools operating, uh, next year.  And all ten of those schools will be in Memphis.
So depending on how you count Lester Middle School, the ASD still has some school closures to announce - three or four to come.  At the outset of this process, explained that it would select ten schools from a published list of fourteen schools.  So far, eight schools on the list have NOT been selected.  What ASD Supt. Barbic's statement on Friday night means is that the parents at:

Graves Elementary
Norris Elementary
Alcy Ball Elementary
Cherokee Elementary
Treadwell Elementary
Caldwell-Guthrie Elementary
Cypress Middle
Denver Elementary

should all still be very worried about who will be teaching their children next year.  And teachers, of course, should be worried about whether they should be looking for other employment.  The Norris parents and teachers are already nervous, since it's on MCS's school closure list.  But ASD Supt. Barbic's statement is important because it means that either three or four of the schools on that list will be closed and reopened with charter organizations next school year.  Well, kind of.  Lester Middle was not on the list, but is being taken over next year.  Maybe ASD Supt. Barbic is willing to take over schools that aren't on that list, but we have to think that there would be considerable pushback, as there has been in Binghampton, should the ASD continue to take over schools that are not on the published list of schools that might be taken over.

What are our stakeholder pain points here?  I phrase it that way only because the consultants won't understand what we're talking about if I leave it in plain English.  So there's the neighborhood instability that comes along with any school takeover, along with the loss of long-standing respected and well-loved employees that contribute to the sense of stability and well-being for the children that attend the school.  There's the loss of tradition and neighborhood pride in the schools - like when the name, colors, or mascot of the school is changed.  What if the ASD told Houston that it was no longer the Mustangs?  Or that White Station was no longer the Spartans?  Oh, that's just whining.  There's the unpredictable nature, for the parents, of what kind of teachers will be brought in to educate the children - often newly-named, not-quite-fully-credentialed teachers, alt-cert teachers with mixed student teaching experience, and let's not forget the five-week-trained Teach for America recent college grads - all with little classroom management experience or knowledge of school discipline principles.  Oh, but they're eager and well-meaning (we must not forget that part).  For the students, it's the sea change in the school that they attended last year - the loss of familiar faces and patterns, and the pressure of learning from a brand new teacher who is still on the front end of their own learning curve.

And then there's the teachers.  Based on last year's transfer process, the process for teachers to voluntarily transfer to another school should already be underway.  According to the current information on the "Teach Memphis" website, managed by TNTP (formerly, The New Teacher Project), the contractor hired by MCS and SCS to conduct teacher hiring, the transfer period is scheduled for spring 2013.  But depending on the timing of the ASD's delayed announcement, teachers at schools that are being closed by the ASD may miss their opportunity to transfer to another position.  The second round of hiring for the ASD finishes up in the next few days.  Nothing like putting teachers at a disadvantage in the hiring process.

If the ASD continues its trend of rejecting the full-school turnaround model, then not all of the teachers at the schools subject to the ASD's delayed announcement would lose their jobs all at once - but it will depend on how the ASD chooses to implement its plan.

We're still very much in the weeds of the budget for next year, but we know that both the School Board and the County Commission are considering significant teacher lay-offs next year, both in SCS and MCS.  There has been no talk of an external hiring freeze, so with the expiration of the contract with MEA this summer, we should expect that experienced teachers will be competing for scarce positions with both new education school graduates, the alt-cert pipeline (individuals that become teachers through non-university programs) loved by reformers, and however many Teach for America folks that the district has contracted to hire.  There will likely be no more "bumping".

At this point, we have to assume that ASD Supt. Barbic understands that he is contributing to the grave uncertainty associated with putting together the merged district, and the School Board's ability to reach an agreement on appropriate school staffing levels.  Should we be grateful that the ASD planners weren't wasting their time and our state tax dollars in coming up with their expansion plan?  Maybe.  But I don't think we should appreciate the continued, unexplained delay in ASD Supt. Barbic's announcement regarding the remaining MCS schools that he expects to close at the end of this school year, and the resulting spinning of wheels by the Board and district staff with local tax dollars.


  1. A Union Representative told me that there most definitely will be bumping next year, but that it will not be based on seniority. It will be based on the new evaluation scores (which, as I'm sure you know, are extremely volatile and, in most cases, meaningless).

    1. Watching in MemphisMarch 2, 2013 at 10:14 PM

      I think this is part of the collaborative conferencing process under PECCA, but as you know, if the district and the employee organization do not reach accord, there is no obligation to negotiate and the district can make policy as it sees fit.

      Also, remember the district has already approved "mutual consent" as a hiring policy (though the district's policy on this hasn't been written yet, the Board approved it), which likely does away with bumping on its own. Mutual consent means that principals can not be required to accept teachers that they did not specifically hire.

      I would say it's an open question. MEA/SCEA wants the ability to bump for its existing, tenured teachers, but I do not believe they can say that the ability to bump junior teachers will survive the merger. It will, at least partly, depend on the language of the current contract, and whether the ability to bump is classified as a right - I'm sure that the district will argue that it was a policy, but not a "right" that is protected by Norris-Todd.

    2. No, he told me they will NOT be bumping junior teachers. They will be bumping teachers with low evaluation scores (teachers who teach in schools that do not show school-wide "growth" in standardized tests).