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It has been almost 10 years since I became a teacher.  I didn’t have many expectations when I began. All I knew was that I wanted to provide the tools students needed to change their life because education had done just that for me.

A poor black girl from inner-city Chicago, I was bused to a gifted center from 3rd grade to 8th grade, where I was one of seven black kids in the entire grade. It was there I learned what I needed to excel, not just in the classroom but in life. Even though we were in a gifted school with students from all over Chicago, we still took the state tests. I recall those being the worst days of the school year.

I didn’t loathe taking the state assessments because they were hard; I hated them because those were the days that I felt like we didn’t learn anything – where we had to spend hours taking a test to tell us what we already knew.

I remembered that as I read about state legislators from Nashville and Memphis for are calling for an “indefinite pause of the state’s embattled test”. (Read more here.)

When I first heard of this, I was discouraged and angry.  Yes, the last few years have been a mess in Memphis and I assume the rest of Tennessee with the state tests.  From software problems to connectivity and a plethora of other issues, the past couple of years led to it not being counted against students or teachers. As an educator who not only sets high expectations for my students but also myself, I first saw this as an excuse for sub-par educators to continue to fail our students, specifically black and brown students in the inner-city.

I say this because, even though the state test didn’t “count”, I still received a report those years for my daughter, who scored “Proficient” in all of the tested categories.  I must also say that we don’t reside in a neighborhood with a track record of failing. Thus, whether the tests counted or not, learning still happened.

I straddled the fence on this topic, seeing both sides of the argument and leaning one way or another depending on what adult I spoke to.  Many parents and educators I spoke to want the test to be halted simply because it hasn’t’ been executed correctly. There are questions about the standards and alignment and how to adequately prepare. In those conversations, my biased ears heard “I want to be able to teach to the test.”

Another individual I spoke to questioned how halting the test would lead to achievement.  Many times, in failing schools and even districts, the buzz words are “growth” and not “achievement,” because there are so few students who are at grade level. Since the deficits are vast in some areas and schools, it’s important to also note growth, as the levels of achievement are seemingly non-existent. (Read more about growth vs. achievement here.) She feared that halting the test would lead to a lower percentage of growth (and achievement) as the years went by.

I wonder if the legislators realized these points when they stood in agreement to halt such an important measurement. Did they think of the long-term effects of a decision such as this? How it not only impacts education but the growth of the city and state? Would parents, professionals and others desire to live in a city/state where there is no defined measurement of academic achievement?

I’m usually very clear about where I stand, yet in this case, I still waver, so I asked my 10-year old daughter for her input.

“I mean, what’s the point of taking the tests if they don’t show how smart I really am. I thought they were easy but also a waste because I just wanted to learn.”

When she spoke, I smiled. Because the desire of all kids is learning, whether they are in a gifted school or not. I wonder if we focused more on teaching and giving the love of learning to students, if we would even be in this situation?

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Crosstown High School is a charter school in Memphis that was designed to be diverse in race, socioeconomics and academic achievement.  The school hopes to better represent the area and teach students how to relate to one another.

“It’s going to be ongoing work. It’s never going to be finished.”
Read more here
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It’s less than a week away from school starting and according to SCS officials and floating news reports, there are a whopping 20,000 children who still have not registered for school.

Some schools started as early as last Wednesday, a few started on this past Wednesday, and Shelby County Schools officially went back on Monday,August 6, 2018.

Even with very rigorous and intentional pre-registration efforts by the district, the number of non-registered students is still astronomically high, though not surprising.

In recent years, there have been similar reports and discussion around “Where are the children?” and more directly, “Where are the parents?” These children, of course, can’t register themselves.

It speaks to a bigger problem that leads to late registration of students, inaccurate resource counts from school leaders and the inability to properly plan when the numbers are so low, imbalanced, and inaccurate. It goes to the frustration of having to play catch up and/or just not being certain as to who and how many will show up for the first day.

The question lingers around how more convenient can the process. Currently, there’s both the option of online and in-school registration and multiple times in which both pre-registration and enrollment can occur. So if time is not the issue or convenience, then what exactly keeps parents from registering their children before the first day of school?

I reached out to a few parents and community leaders and asked them the simple question, “What do you think caused 20,000 students from being registered for school?“

Below are a few of the responses:

No sense of urgency from families/parent/guardians; No connection between school/community/families. The process itself is difficult, having to have proof of residency; No deadline is required to have a child registered which means no consequence for not being registered; if the district doesn't take it seriously, why would the parent? Also, you have some families who may be in fear of deportation...

                                                                                   -Ashley Johnson, Community Member

ICE, maybe!! I got a text today from someone who said immigration came to their job a couple of weeks ago to interview all of the Hispanic employees and today they found out everyone has to leave but two!

So if Hispanic adults are losing their job then I'm sure they're fearful for their kids.

What I don't understand is why haven't the media asked what is the demographics of those students that have not registered yet for school? That's endless media hits for them if they uncover it's related to ICE.

                                                                                   -TJ Jefferson, Community Member

Lack of access to computers even though there are libraries everywhere. 2. Using someone else's address and getting that proof to the school. 3. Not able to get to the school because of work schedule. 4. Just bad parenting decisions.

                                                                                   -April Terrell, Community Member

Lack of Parental Concern. I have asked and some have the registered their child was told nope very nonchalant. They’re more focused on social media and other nonfactors and the new parents who wouldn’t even vote really hurting our babies.                                                                           

                                                                                   -Wanlisha Hawkins, Parent

I honestly think it’s related to a computer glitch. I’m getting system generated emails. Taelor was registered back in March. I received that email back in March. I have no clue why I’ve received two more emails since then, a few calls and text messages AND an email from the PTA president. And that’s something they wouldn’t dare disclose to the public. They need to have more proactive measures: a child needs to be registered and approved for the next school yet prior to receiving their last report card. Heck, make it earlier than that! Any changes to addresses or transfers need to be received and processed by August 1st.

                                                                                   -Crystal Sawyer, Parent

Interesting perspectives from both community members and parents. They even added some insightful suggestions too. I do believe the number has to be more streamlined and figuring out more who those 20,000 students are. Are these numbers reflective of students who are in fear of being deported? If so, what measures are in place to assist with this reality for families? Is this more of a city-wide issue than just the school district?

The school year’s start is right around the corner. For the sake of the academic and social success of students, let's hope this number significantly decreases soon. Whatever the actual issues, they should be revealed and addressed so that as a community we can solve why students not being registered.

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Memphis K12 Education Blog by Marlena Little - 1y ago

It’s true that our perceptions are a collection of experiences lived through our concepts of reality.  What we “see” can vary from person to person, even in the same family. Perception is the reason why two siblings can have the same parents but have very different experiences. Perceptions are also the lenses in which we see others and how we treat them. Saying that, I wrote a short letter to white teachers who work in “the hood”.

Dear White Teachers,

If you work in an underserved, habitually and systemically deprived neighborhood as a teacher, you are not a savior. You do not wear a superhero cape that is invisible to everyone but you. Thus, it is not a part of your “calling” to save the little black and brown children. I’m sorry, but Jesus already did that.

I’m not speaking on anyone’s intentions because intentions can be good and still result in unfavorable outcomes. Neither am I devaluing the work you do, getting up each day and teaching can indeed be hard. I’m specifically speaking to the part of you, many times unintentional, that feels “good” about your work, the self-rewarding aspect of your internal makeup that doesn’t see that we don’t need your type of help. Honestly, we don’t need your help at all.

It doesn’t matter if you think you can relate, being an ally in this cause doesn’t mean you understand the depths of the generational effects of a white society. We weren’t emphatically taught of our importance and value by society. Not in the last couple of lifetimes. We consistently see images of us in every sector of media, here and abroad, as less educated, lesser civilized and less human. Our daughters still have a slither of choices in the dolls that depict us. We have a section of books at the library, and an even smaller slither of curriculum that we can identify with in our schools.

More often than not, my white counterparts struggle with classroom management. Whether they are “from” the area or not. Each year, I’ve encountered Referral Randy and Send-Out Susan, teachers who have no concept of the perception they had to the children they served, the entitlement that they exhibited when they entered a classroom that echoed an air of insistence in which students had to listen to them just because they were white. Let’s not forget to mention the desire to listen to hip hop and rap music during the day to connect, or even being the teacher who stays after-school to run a gender specific group. I have consistently sat in data meetings of these teachers who believe that any growth is good, that they are the best teacher since sliced bread, when their actual data is sub-par.

I personally take offense to the ways in which their efforts are seen as adequate when growth will most likely occur when an adult is consistently present. In education, there shouldn’t be a consolation prize for simply showing up. Yet, their unperceived entitlement results in a belief that their lower standard of excellence was good enough. To be completely honest, I can’t just blame them.

Society has consistently shown us that white mediocrity is acceptable, most times even rewarded. George Bush was a mediocre student – and he became President. I’ve repeatedly seen my white counterparts, both male and female, perform at a lower standard in the classroom and get promoted. I once worked in an organization whose head of curriculum couldn’t pass the Praxis teaching certification exam and only had a Bachelor’s degree – in music. I constantly witness white teachers have sub-par achievement and growth data and return the next year to teach the same subject.  In what other professions can you continually fail and continue practicing?

I recognize you may believe there is fallacy in my argument, however I write this from a place of personal truth. The essence of truth isn’t facts but lies in the pursuit of what is absolute. We absolutely don’t need ineffective teachers educating those students who have habitually been underserved, both intentionally and unintentionally. We absolutely don’t need your help in perpetuating the stigmas that exist on us by not reflecting on us in our entirety, while not placing undue emphasis on our current circumstance. And we most certainly, absolutely, don’t need your pity nor do we appreciate that you feel “good” about your work after teaching us for a day, week, months, or years.

What we do need is for you to operate in the spirit of excellence – our bar, not yours. The same level of excellence that we’ve operated in for decades and even centuries (check our scoreboard). We, I, need you to do more, especially for those who are playing catch-up in the classroom.  

Signed,

Concerned Black Teachers Everywhere

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Memphis students are registering for school in greater numbers this school year than they did last year.  Outreach efforts to parents are paying off tremendously.

“We’ve been trying to meet parents where they’re at. Our principals and teachers took ownership of registration.”

Read more here

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Fifteen people are vying for four seats on the Shelby County Schools board this year. That’s much higher stakes compared to two years ago when five seats were up for election with only one contested race.

The election is Thursday, Aug. 2 with early voting starting Friday, July 13.

To learn more about these candidates and meet them in person, be sure to attend our forum 6:00 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, July 19 at BRIDGES.

Note: School board candidates Roderic Ford, Percy Hunter, and Alvin Crook did not respond to the survey questions. We have included some general information about each of those candidates.

Read more here

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In school, Ginny Terrell was that kid. You know, the one that was called stupid. The one no one thought would achieve much. That was Ginny.  The naysayers were wrong though, because now Ginny is teaching students who are undervalued and underestimated and she is setting the bar high-not low-for her students.

“If you think you have arrived in teaching, you need to retire.“

Read more here

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By Elizabeth Jepsen

On Monday, July 9, 2018, a group of Memphis parents, educators, and education advocates gathered with Stand for Children to discuss the need to rethink school discipline policies to focus on student needs. The driving question posed was, “What skills do students in Memphis need to access the lives they deserve?” The goal was to focus on identifying not only the skills students need to have, but the skills we, as adults, need to internalize that will allow us to be proactive about student discipline. The idea is to achieve this by focusing on assets rather than on punitive measures and behaviors.

Fifteen states specifically allow schools to use of corporal punishment, while eight other states have no laws or regulations against it.  Tennessee is one of the states that still allows corporal punishment as a form of discipline within its schools, according to the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments.

Tennessee’s law 49-6-4103 explicitly states, “Any teacher or school principal may use corporal punishment in a reasonable manner against any pupil in order to maintain discipline and order within the public schools.” Let’s be clear; however, corporal punishment is not allowed in all schools in Tennessee, only some.

For example, the Shelby County school district in Memphis does not have policies in place that allow corporal punishment. Public charter schools in SCS, though they may operate in accordance with many SCS policies, still maintain autonomy under their charter to implement practices—whether they be academic or behavioral—that they deem best suit the needs of their students.

Therefore, even though the Shelby County School Board of Education voted 13-2 in 2013 to repeal the corporal punishment policy, corporal punishment does still take place within SCS.

As suggested by the title of this gathering, the people in attendance were there because of the recognition of the fact that there is a huge gap between what we expect and anticipate for our students and how we are helping them get there. Across SCS, discipline is an issue that varies greatly and in extreme measures from school to school.

Cathy Emerson, a school psychologist, and Shanieka Smith, a school counselor joined us for the evening, prefacing the discussion with the story of a student who had been failed by the school system. Sadly, the story of this particular student sounded all too familiar

This student, called Quo* was significantly behind academically and although he had support from his family and school, he lacked the skills he needed to be successful without consistent guidance. Unfortunately, Quo became the status of the latter. While Quo was on the right track and progressing academically, he was still missing the fundamental skills to be able to cope with the rigor and various tensions of his environment. As a result, Quo found himself in a system far less (or maybe comparably) forgiving than the public-school system: the prison system.
 

During the meeting, an equity based protocol for rethinking school discipline was given:

Empathy and high expectations

Quality teaching

Understanding and personalization

Incident response

Team approach

You focused policy

Oftentimes, our schools focus so heavily on what students lack and reinforce these deficits through punitive measures. How might our schools be different if we focused on working with students to help them develop healthy emotional, physical, and cognitive practices that enabled them to better self-direct?   

This is Part 1 in a series dedicated to rethinking school discipline.

*Name changed for protection

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Being a mother of a Black pre-teen is more than a notion. In wanting to validate the greatness within my daughter, and even in others, I have often said the phrase “Black Girl Magic.”

“Work your Black Girl Magic!”

“Sprinkle that Black Girl Magic, hunny!”

“Yessss! That Black Girl Magic is shining!”

In saying it to my daughter once, I began to think about what “magic” really is.

Magic

a : the use of means (such as charms or spells) believed to have supernatural power over natural forces

b : magic rites or incantations (spells)

This has bothered me for some time. I wrote a blog for my young Black girls – requesting her to shine her Black Girl Magic at all times.

But what am I really saying? What are we really saying when we say this to our youth and sisters?

Why do we consider the excellence in which we move and be, to be magical? As if there lies no merit in it being just who we are, the perfectly designed being that is purposed to be great? Since when did accomplishments be diminished to being magic? Something supernatural, occurring under a spell or charm?

Why is this considered a phrase of validation?

I recall some of my favorite movies, Disney movies of course, where magic was a central element.  Aladdin and The Princess and the Frog. In both, the element of magic was used to alter reality. In Aladdin, the Genie gives supernatural gifts to Prince Aladdin to change his life; in The Princess and the Frog, the Shadow Man uses magic to alter reality in the most dark ways.

But we congratulate our girls by telling them they are Black Girl Magic?

I became furious! Maybe unwarranted, yet there were continuous thoughts of contradictions and confusion that followed.

Why can’t we just be great? Why we gotta always be magical?

Why are we so bent on being celebrated in the most interesting ways, that we forget that we are just being who we are designed to be? Would we really say, White Girl Magic? Or do we see a separate standard for ourselves that we must continuously paint a picture of make-believe for our youth?

Why must be supernatural when we exhibit what it looks like to operate in our individual gifts?

Anita Baker said it best,

The story ends, as stories do

Reality steps into view

No longer living life in paradise-or fairy tales

We are not in a fairy tale, (are there black fairy tales?) but in the reality that, in America, we have gassed up our black girls and boys by equating the actuality of their limitless potential and abilities with magic.

From now on, I think I’ll just say,

“You go girl!”

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