University of Memphis, Shelby County Schools forge partnership to address teacher shortage

 The University of Memphis and Shelby County Schools are creating a partnership aimed at training the next generation of teachers to work in the city’s classrooms.The college announced plans on Thursday to launch its Urban Education Teacher Prep program by fall of 2019 under new dean Kandi Hill-Clarke, a Memphis native recruited home this year from Indiana State University, where she was also dean.Hill-Clarke is designing the track as part of the university’s new River City Partnership with Shelby County Schools. The goal is to work together to strengthen the pipeline of skilled new teachers who are culturally aware of the needs of urban students. As part of the program, teacher candidates will receive classroom experience and mentoring in some of the district’s highest-needs schools. “The University of Memphis recognizes the challenges facing the Shelby County region can be addressed through a stronger education system and that must be cultivated from the ground up,” said M. David Rudd, the university’s president. “By collaborating with the Shelby County public school system, we can work together to better train and prepare future educators who are eager to continue to invest in the Memphis community and teach the next generation of students.”With the partnership, the university is stepping up to the plate to fill the chronic need for more teachers in Memphis. At the start of this school year, for instance, Shelby County Schools was short of at least 175 new teachers, especially in subjects like math, science, and special education.But it also has the potential to energize the university’s College of Education where, mirroring a national trend, the number of graduates has decreased by about half since 2013.This isn’t the first time the university has tried to create an urban teaching track. Three years ago, university leaders attempted to partner with New York-based Relay Graduate School of Continue Reading

Proposal to bring wind power to Shelby County withdrawn

A $2 billion wind-energy project that would connect the Mid-South's electrical grid with turbines on the Great Plains -- while also bringing a $260 million investment to Shelby County -- faces an uncertain future after the proposal was withdrawn from consideration.Houston-based Clean Line Energy Partners withdrew from the queue of applicants seeking to connect with the Tennessee Valley Authority transmission system, company spokeswoman Sarah Bray said. She cited insufficient interest by TVA and "others in the Southeast" for the action.  "Before moving forward, we need market conditions in the Southeast to improve and need to have more commercial interest in the project...," Bray said in an email."The fact that TVA has not accepted our proposal to deliver very low-cost wind energy does certainly factor in to the reasons..."TVA officials, however, said the company failed to meet its own timeline in following through with the two-stage application process. The first stage is a study to ensure the connection meets technical requirements, and the second is establishing an agreement under which TVA would purchase the power."We're willingly listen to any proposal, and we will evaluate it to ensure it's in the best interests of the people we serve," TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said. "Because we never got to the purchase-power agreement, that was an evaluation we were unable to make."Clean Line is welcome to "come back and reapply" at any time, Hopson said.Clean Line planned to build a 700-mile transmission system that would deliver 3,500 megawatts of wind energy from Oklahoma, across Arkansas to a station near Millington. There, the power would be transferred onto the grid of TVA, the federally owned corporation that sells wholesale power to utilities in Memphis and across a seven-state region.TVA, in turn, would distribute the Clean Line power that it didn't buy to other utilities across the Southeast.Using Continue Reading

DVD distributor Technicolor seeks new tax breaks to keep jobs in Shelby County

Entertainment industry giant Technicolor is asking Memphis and Shelby County for a new tax abatement to retain as many as 916 jobs in the city.The French-owned company told the Economic Development Growth Engine of Memphis and Shelby County it’s exploring relocating jobs to other locations, including Rossville in Fayette County, LaVergne, Tennessee and Huntsville, Alabama.Technicolor has won a series of tax incentives since 1995 for a distribution and manufacturing operation that serves entertainment and media companies including Disney, Paramount and Universal Studios. The company primarily distributes DVDs from multiple warehouse sites in the southeast Memphis logistics district.Technicolor has applied to the EDGE board for a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) to retain jobs in Memphis. Its current PILOT benefits are due to run out between 2018 and 2021, the company says.Technicolor’s Memphis employment was listed at 2,098 in an EDGE compliance reported dated a year ago. That was down from 3,197 employees in December 2015.Technicolor reported 934 employees and 1,164 contract workers in 2016.Technicolor offered EDGE four different “retention PILOT” scenarios that would enable the company to keep anywhere from 158 to 916 jobs in Memphis, plus another 306 to 1,491 jobs that are not subject to PILOT provisions including target wages. It says the capital investment could be up to $14 million.The EDGE board is scheduled to consider the Technicolor application during a meeting at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Memphis Area Association of Realtors, 6393 Poplar.The board also will consider an application for a partial tax freeze from a California company that wants to create 117 new jobs in a distribution center that supplies research laboratories.The application from Agilent, a Santa Clara, California-based spinoff of Hewlett-Packard, will be heard by the Economic Development Growth Engine of Memphis and Shelby County on Wednesday.Agilent has applied for a Continue Reading

Dorcas Young Griffin to head Shelby County Community Services

Dorcas Young Griffin, deputy director of Shelby County Community Services, will succeed retiring division director Martha Lott in January.The County Board of Commissioners on Monday confirmed Mayor Mark Luttrell's nomination of Griffin, who will step into the role in January. She will oversee a division that includes the Rape Crisis Center and Crime Victims Center and that provides utility assistance, rent assistance and a variety of other services to the community.Since joining the county in 2007, Griffin has served as public health coordinator and program manager of the Ryan White HIV services and has worked with Shelby County Head Start.The commission also confirmed the nomination of John Zeanah as director of the Memphis and Shelby County Planning and Development Division. Zeanah, previously the deputy director, succeeds retiring director Richard Copeland on Jan. 2. Reach Ryan Poe at [email protected] or on Twitter at @ryanpoe. Continue Reading

No bah humbug here: Shelby County deputies, charity bring Christmas joy to traffic stops

Michael Williams thought his Monday had gotten off to a horrible start when a Shelby County Sheriff's deputy pulled him over in Cordova along Germantown Parkway."I was on the phone with my friend and I said I've got to go because I think I'm about to get a traffic ticket," said Williams of Toone, Tenn. But what Williams got instead was what he called a "Christmas blessing."The blessing was part of "Operation Blue Christmas,"  an annual event pulled off in partnership by the the Boll Weevil Charity Foundation, the Shelby County Sheriff's Office and Target. Unsuspecting drivers like Williams were pulled over Monday for minor traffic violations, including not wearing a seat belt or running a stop sign.But instead of getting a ticket, deputies chatted them up about what their family wanted for Christmas.Listening in were members of the Boll Weevil's organization who zipped around Target to buy the gifts for the families. In their bright green truck with a giant Boll Weevil on top they then arrived to surprise the drivers with their Christmas presents ranging from electronics to toys. When Williams learned he was getting Christmas gifts for his family and not a ticket but a warning about not wearing a seatbelt, he teared up. "I told them my older girls wanted iPads and my baby girl wanted a baby doll and a toy horse," Williams said. "I knew I couldn't afford the iPads, but God has provided a Christmas blessing to my family and I am grateful."Lynn Grayson was the second person surprised by the Boll Weevils Monday during the traffic stops. She was pulled over for not wearing a seat belt, but instead of a ticket, she left with a 43-inch flat screen television, a Sony PlayStation 4 and Target gift cards for her family. When deputies and then men dressed in green like the cotton-eating beetles surrounded her blue van, she didn't know what was happening."I just didn't want a ticket because it's the holidays," Grayson said. "I was Continue Reading

Tennessee, Shelby County look to sue as opioid costs mount

Tennessee and Shelby County could join a growing list of governments suing giant painkiller manufacturers for allegedly turning a blind eye to opioid abuse.State House Speaker Beth Harwell last week publicly asked Attorney General Herbert Slatery to consider suing drug companies, and Shelby County commissioners Terry Roland and Reginald Milton requested the same of county attorneys Wednesday.Overall, the state is one of the worst for opioid and prescription drug abuse. Nearly 72 percent of the state's 1,451 overdose deaths in 2015 involved opioids, resulting in significant legal, rehabilitation and incarceration costs, among others."What it's doing is stretching our resources," Roland said. "It hits us everywhere."In West Tennessee, the number of overdose deaths from alcohol, drugs or both has risen dramatically in just the past year, from 188 in 2015 to an estimated 266 in 2016, according to the West Tennessee Regional Forensics Center. And Shelby County Health Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Hart said the 2016 numbers could grow.Of those numbers, deaths related to heroin — a more commonly known opioid — rose 833 percent from nine cases in 2011 to 84 cases in 2014."It's probably going from an epidemic to a pandemic," Roland said.Roland said he's still awaiting estimates of the costs to the Health Department, Shelby County Sheriff's Office and the Regional Medical Center also known as Regional One.But some of the costs to the community are more subtle, Roland added — like the lasting effects on children with addicted parents. He said he's recently attended several funerals of addicts and knew the drugged couple shown unconscious in a viral video.Ohio and Mississippi have already sued pharmaceutical companies, and Roland said he's aware of two or three other states and counties who may file suits soon. Memphis is "studying the issue" and monitoring Ohio and Mississippi's cases, said city spokesman Continue Reading

Enrollment rises in Shelby County Schools for first time since suburban split

Every year since the massive 2013 merger of schools in Memphis and Shelby County, enrollment for the consolidated district has dropped.Most precipitous was the whopping 34,000 students who left the new Shelby County Schools in 2014 as six suburban towns formed their own school systems in a shakeup known as the “de-merger.” More: Hispanic enrollment drops amid immigration arrest fears, SCS superintendent says More: A Shelby County school went nearly a year without a chemistry teacher – and no students passed the test Another 11,000 students were siphoned off gradually by Tennessee’s turnaround district, which has taken over low-performing Memphis schools annually since 2012.But this school year, for the first time since the merger, the shrinkage stopped — and even reversed course a little.Enrollment for district-run schools is 92,400, up by 2,000 students, according to preliminary numbers provided by Shelby County Schools. It’s a modest but serendipitous gain for a district that is Tennessee’s largest but was bracing for another small decline.Add in charter schools, and the total enrollment is just under 107,000, a 2 percent increase from last year. (Charters make up a fourth of Shelby County Schools. They are public schools that are privately managed. All of the totals are based on the 20th day of the school year and are still being finalized.)Superintendent Dorsey Hopson calls the increase a significant victory, especially considering that the district started the school year behind on enrollment. The higher student count already has translated into $7.6 million more in state funding than expected, he said.“Just to be able to say we’ve stopped the bleeding this year and actually be on the trajectory to increasing attendance speaks to the work that’s going on in our schools,” Hopson told Chalkbeat on Tuesday.District leaders hope this year’s enrollment starts an upward trend Continue Reading

Mickell Lowery seeks Shelby County Commission seat

Mickell Lowery, son of Memphis City Council chairman emeritus Myron Lowery, announced Wednesday he will seek election to the Shelby County Commission in 2018.Lowery, a Democrat and chairman of the Memphis Housing Authority board, hopes to succeed term-limited Walter Bailey Jr., the longest-serving commissioner, in District 8, an area that includes all of Downtown and parts of South Memphis and Frayser."I want to see our county claim our time is now," Lowery said in an exclusive interview Wednesday. "We keep talking about the potential of Memphis and Shelby County, but I think we're past that conversation. Our time is now."Lowery, who is married with three daughters, ages 19, 8 and 3, said he'll campaign for better and better-financed education, especially for children with special needs; for stronger neighborhood associations; and for county policies that will attract businesses, spur job growth and elevate minority and women-owned businesses.A district sales manager at FedEx Services and former president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, Lowery unsuccessfully ran in 2015 for his father's City Council Super District 8 Position 3 seat, which covers a similar area. Former school board member Martavius Jones won the race by fewer than 2,000 votes.The county primary election is May 1 and the general election is Aug. 2.So far, Lowery is the only candidate, Republican or Democrat, to notify The Commercial Appeal of his candidacy. Attorney JB Smiley and Memphis Housing and Community Development inspections manager Daryl Lewis, both Democrats, are also considering bids but haven't announced. Reach Ryan Poe at [email protected] and on Twitter at @ryanpoe.  Continue Reading

Murders down in Memphis and Shelby County, report states

Crime statistics released Thursday by the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission show a decrease in homicides for the first eight months of the year compared with the same period last year.Preliminary figures show a 17.6 percent drop in the homicide rate countywide and a 9.7 percent decrease in homicides in the city of Memphis from January to September, according to the Crime Commission's third quarter report for 2017.The decrease in homicides is significant because the city and the county both had a record number of slayings in 2016.Last year in Memphis, there were a record number of homicides with 228. In Shelby County, there was also a record number of homicides with 17.  ► More: Shelby County Sheriff's Office to hire 25 deputies to fight crime in Memphis ► More: Wounded City series showcases epidemic that badly needs addressing ► More: David Waters: Saving young casualties in our wounded city "After a tough 2016, we've seen a significant drop in deadly violence, which is encouraging," said Bill Gibbons, president of the Crime Commission and executive director of the University of Memphis Public Safety Institute.Major violent crime include murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults. Even though, homicides are down, aggravated assaults  saw the biggest increase under the violent crime category.Aggravated assaults increased 11.2 percent in the county and 11.9 percent in Memphis. The increased aggravated assaults resulted in an overall increase in major violent crime, which jumped 8.5 percent in the county and 9.4 percent in Memphis."Obviously, the increase in aggravated assaults is of concern. An aggravated assault can often easily turn into a death or a serious injury," Gibbons said.Domestic violence incidents increased 8.1 percent in the city and 6.3 percent countywide.Major property crimes — a category that includes burglaries and thefts saw the largest increase in auto thefts, with a 21 percent Continue Reading

DOJ terminates parts of Shelby County Juvenile Court agreement, oversight to continue

The U.S. Department of Justice is terminating more than a dozen subsections of its agreement with Shelby County Juvenile Court, but stopped short of releasing the county from oversight.According to a document obtained by The Commercial Appeal, the Justice Department is terminating 14 subsections after finding that the county has complied with the measures substantially and for one year.The Justice Department expressed confidence to county officials that there has been steady movement toward compliance with the entire agreement, however "because more work needs to be done before that goal is achieved, it would be premature to terminate the entire agreement at this time."The court has been monitored following a 2012 report from the Justice Department finding discrimination against African-American children, unsafe confinement conditions and failures to provide due process to youth appearing for proceedings at the court.Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, Sheriff Bill Oldham and Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael signed a letter in June to Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking him to review the status of the entire agreement with the DOJ and that if he agrees it should be terminated, they invited him to a press conference to announce the "success of our collective efforts."In September, County Attorney Kathryn Pascover and Assistant County Attorney John Marshall Jones alternatively asked for certain provisions of the agreement to be terminated.The 14 subsections the Justice Department is terminating involve hearings that determine whether to transfer a child to adult court, training about due process of law, determination of probable cause and protecting children from harm."The U.S. Department of Justice today affirmed its confidence in the operations of Juvenile Court by terminating another 14 provisions set out in the Memorandum of Agreement between Shelby County Government, Juvenile Court, and the DOJ," Juvenile Court Judge Dan Continue Reading