Getting Educated: the Beginning of Memphis’ 2014-2015 School Year

Posted on September 1, 2014

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By Tiegst Ameha

As August comes to a close and college students prepare for a new semester, Shelby County and other K through 12 schools are 3 weeks into their academic school year, however, with the multiple changes that the Memphis school system faces, faculty and administrators prepare to make many adjustments in order for the 2014-2015 school year to run as smoothly as possible.

Teachers in the Shelby County School system arrived back at their respective schools with very good news: SCS boasts 42 Reward Schools in the district, more than any other in the state. Reward Schools are either in the top five percent of the highest improving schools or the top five percent of the highest performing school. Though the majority of SCS Reward Schools are in the highest progressing schools rather than the highest performing schools, such growth is still a considerable feat.

Much of how the district gauges these schools’ improvement and performance is through test scores, a hot topic in Memphis education. This year, as teachers across the state prepared their lesson plans and calendars, the question of TCAP practice tests buzzed through the air. In Nashville, which is home to the second largest district in the state, the board decided to abandon the use of practice TCAP tests, due to concerns that the test is not up to new standards for evaluating achievement and understanding. The state currently entertains offers for new standardized achievement tests, but they are not close to any decision and will not likely choose a new standard until next year at the earliest.

Despite Nashville’s concern about the practice TCAP test, Shelby County plans to continue practice testing for at least one more academic year. Many educators feel that this test, though it may be flawed, is better than no test at all. There is not necessarily a resounding appreciation of TCAP practice test, but rather a lack of a better option. Most SCS members feel that the test isn’t perfect, yet they choose to continue testing and adjust according to the exam’s shortcomings. With the vote just days away, only one board member has gone on record in opposition to keeping the TCAP, and all others will likely vote “yes” during the final vote on the 26th of this month.

While most teachers began instructing and preparing for both the TCAP and midterms earlier this month, many SCS teachers prepared for something different entirely. At the end of the previous academic school year, many small or struggling schools were closed, leaving those teachers blindsided and without a job. While some of those teachers found jobs within the system, many of them found themselves unemployed for the first time in years. Tenured teachers were displaced or without work, leaving them on what the school system calls a “Reemployment Lists,” however, being on a list was not enough for many tenured teachers, and the school system is facing at least two lawsuits from groups of tenured teachers who had lost work when their schools were closed.

One school that just narrowly escaped being closed is Northside High School. Through protest, alumni involvement, and a last minute change of heart, the school remains open, but not without changes. The school received what they call a “fresh start”. All teachers (save one) were replaced, as well as all members of the administration. The new faces and attitudes are intended to help turn this school around quickly. Additionally, these new staffers will implement new programs and new discipline policy, all in an effort to maximize effectiveness. One of many big changes for the school is the turning away from disciplinary action that sends students home. The school now focuses on “in school suspension” as another way to maximize student learning, even in the disciplinary setting. Much is needed to turn Northside around, but with all new staff and faculty, all new programs, and hopefully a more robust student population, the school could certainly improve.

Memphis educators are using everything from TCAP to “fresh starts” to start the new school year on a high note. Whether it be achievement scores or lawsuits, Memphis schools stay true to their always eventful style as they began this new academic school year.

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Posted in: Education