Shelby County schools to be closed again Thursday

Shelby County Schools and other local systems will remain closed on Thursday as cold weather clings to the Memphis area.Among the other school districts announcing closures for Thursday were Bartlett, Lakeland, Arlington, Germantown, Collierville, and Millington. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson posted the announcement on Twitter shortly before 6 p.m., noting that details would follow. Thursday's closure will mark the 7th consecutive day out of class for local students. School was called off for bad weather on Friday, followed by the three-day Martin Luther King Day holiday weekend and snow days on Tuesday, Wednesday and now Thursday. Check back for updates. Continue Reading

No more camping — Shelby County Schools moves Optional Schools application process online

Shelby County Schools is trying to increase access to its elite and more challenging academic programs by moving the application process entirely online. The change puts an end to the longstanding tradition of families camping — literally, in tents, mid-winter, sometimes for days — in front of the administration building waiting to be the first to receive a time-stamped paper application. The process for securing a seat in an Optional Program will still be first-come, first-serve, however. Someone — it doesn't have to be a parent — will need to be online to apply as soon as possible after the application goes live at 10 a.m. on Jan. 29. SCS is also combining the processes for applying to an Optional Program to the "general choice transfer" application, the process for applying to any school other than where a student is zoned. The general transfer application has been online for the last few years and has worked well, Chief of Communications and Community Engagement Natalia Powers said. But people confused that process with the one to apply for one of the 40-plus Optional Programs in the district. "It was just not as parent-friendly as we wanted," Powers said. Sometime next week, she said, the district will put a copy of the application online so families know exactly what information will be required in hopes of an easy submission on the 29th. Every school in the district, as well as the district's Welcome Center at 2687 Avery Ave., will be open for families to come use a computer if needed. The application can also be submitted using a mobile device. In previous years, nearly every student received either their first or second choice for Optional Schools, Powers said, but they expect with the online process that the number of applications will increase."The one thing that we’re recommending for families is the closer you are to that release or launch time, the Continue Reading

Shelby County Schools board gives superintendent Dorsey Hopson a raise

The Shelby County Schools board approved a raise for Superintendent Dorsey Hopson on Wednesday. Board members voted 8-0, with Chris Caldwell abstaining, to increase Hopson's salary from $277,000 to $285,000 through the 2019-20 school year. The increase in salary will be retroactive to July 1 of this year.The vote took place in a special-called meeting held Wednesday afternoon, a week after investigators released a scathing investigative report detailing grading fraud at Trezevant High School.An audit is ongoing into seven other schools where investigators found had high numbers of grades changed, although its unclear if there was any wrongdoing at those schools."We feel it’s important for us to have stable leadership," board chairwoman Shante Avant said following the meeting. "We know that through some of the challenges we’ve faced, even as recent as Trezevant investigation, that it’s important to have leadership that’s accountable." More: Hopson: grade changing at Trezevant High was 'criminal' The pay increase comes months after the board approved extending Hopson's existing contract. But attorneys for the district and the board determined state law restricts how long a superintendent's contract can be extended, and at this point, Hopson's needed to either be renewed or replaced.The legal technicality allowed for renegotiation, Board Chairwoman Shante Avant said, and the board learned Hopson was supposed to have been given a raise at the end of the 2016-17 school year.Hopson's previous contract, which was due to end June 30, 2018,  stated he would be given a raise if contracted employees were given one. He received such a raise in July 2016, increasing from $269,000 to $277,000 a year, but did not receive one when teachers did at the beginning of this school year. Avant said this increase in the new contract simply puts him "on par" with where he should have been, which is why the increase is Continue Reading

An ‘I’ or an ‘F’? Shelby County Schools debates grade floors, grading scale

Students who are are coming up short academically in Shelby County Schools could see an "I" for "incomplete" on their report cards, a letter that would be replaced with a failing number if the student doesn't complete makeup work. The "I" marking would substitute for a controversial practice known as "grade floors" implemented haphazardly across the district. Grade floors, the practice of never giving a student below a certain number grade, received an hour-long debate from the school board Thursday, with little resolution but a commitment to implementing a uniform policy.Advocates of a grade floor say it gives students a chance to recover. A zero, even if deserved, could deter a student from participating any further. But critics say it gives students a grade they don't deserve, a particularly sensitive subject in SCS following the recent discovery of grade tampering at Trezevant and Hamilton high schools. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said he wanted to get an idea from board members whether they support the idea of a grade floor or an alternative. "I’m not opposed to grading floors because if you get a 50 or a 60, it’s still an F," Hopson said. "But it gives you an opportunity."Several board members said they believed an incomplete grade would accomplish the same goal. And at the end of the course, a student who deserved to fail would still receive an F. "I could easily get on board with the 'I,'" board member Kevin Woods said. "I think it makes a lot of sense."Board member Stephanie Love said she's concerned with the idea of grade floors as both a board member and a parent."As a board member, I’m not comfortable with giving a child a 60," she said. "I would prefer the ‘I.’ As a parent, I’m not comfortable with giving my child a 60 knowing they haven’t completed their work."Hopson said the grade floor issue will prompt another revision of the often-visited school Continue Reading

Other Shelby County Schools could be investigated following Trezevant grade fixing report

Despite Shelby County Schools leaders' previous insistence that a grading scandal at Trezevant High was an isolated incident, the six-month investigation into grade changing practices across the district revealed that may not be the case."Additional investigation of academic improprieties at other schools in the District is warranted," the report from Butler Snow law firm concluded. At least 53 students graduated from Trezevant without earning their diplomas, according to findings from the report released Tuesday. That increased the graduation rate 14 percent over a four-year period from 2012-2016. During that time, 461 grades at that school were changed from failing to passing. That wasn't even the highest number in the district during that time.Kirby High had 582 failing grades changed to passing grades. After Trezevant, Raleigh-Egypt High had 429 such changes. The average number of grade changes across the district was 53 changes, according to an audit from Dixon Hughes Goodman auditing firm, the results of which are included in Butler Snow's report.The report does not analyze the changes made or determine if they were warranted. For example, students can complete make-up work that could result in an acceptable change to a transcript. But high numbers of changes set off alarm bells with investigators. "The number of schools with similar high incidences of fail to pass transcript changes indicates that the issue needs to be thoroughly investigated on a wider scale in light of this investigation’s confirmation of academic improprieties at Trezevant," the report reads.The district has not yet said if it will launch any additional investigations, although Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said Tuesday night he was "disgusted" by the actions of "a few bad apples."Board members largely indicated during Tuesday night's meeting that this report was only the first step, although they weren't sure what would come next."It gives us an Continue Reading

Shelby County Schools fights TSSAA in court to seek reinstatement of 2 East High players

Shelby County Schools officials were in Chancery Court on Wednesday seeking a temporary restraining order against the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association's ruling that two East High players are ineligible.A morning hearing was reset until Wednesday afternoon before Shelby County Chancellor Jim Kyle. The Shelby County Board of Education, as the political body for the school system, is officially listed as the petitioner in the petition.At issue is the status of two East High players — Ryan Boyce and James Wiseman -- who transferred to East this year. Boyce formerly played at Houston High in Germantown, and the 6-foot-11 Wiseman came from Ensworth in Nashville.Both played for Team Penny last summer. Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway, a former star at Memphis State and the NBA, is the coach at East. The TSSAA contends there is a coaching link between Team Penny and Hardaway as the East coach, and such a connection would prohibit the players from playing at East under the association's rules.Attorneys for SCS dispute the relationship between Team Penny, an AAU team, and Hardaway constitutes the coaching link."Presumably, the TSSAA is of the belief that Mr. Hardaway allegedly is a coach or a sponsor of Team Penny," the system said in its lawsuit, adding: "Mr. Hardaway is not, in fact, a coach or a sponsor for Team Penny. The coach of Team Penny is Todd Day. The sponsor of Team Penny is Nike, Inc."The lawsuit states that no coach or official with East High is involved with Team Penny, More: Why Memphis East , a national power coached by Penny Hardaway, has 2 ineligible players Officials with SCS announced Tuesday they would seek the temporary restraining order against the TSSAA seeking to overturn the association's decision against the players, identified as R.B. and J.W. in a news release.The legal action came after the TSSAA denied East's appeal of the decision ruling the players ineligible."TSSAA has continued an Continue Reading

Four Shelby County schools no longer on Priority List, 16 others named Reward Schools

Four Shelby County schools did well enough on state tests this year that they are no longer in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state and are automatically removed from the Priority List. Another five schools remain on the list but received recognition from The Tennessee Department of Education for showing improvement.Exiting the Priority List from SCS are Mitchell High, Treadwell Elementary and Northwest Prep, and from the Achievement School District, Georgian Hills Achievement Elementary and Treadwell are in SCS's turnaround program, the Innovation Zone."It has been a journey for us, so this is like history in the making for this particular school," Treadwell Principal Tanisha Heaston said. The state also recognized 16 Shelby County schools as Reward Schools, meaning they were either in the top 5 percent in the state for performance, progress or both. A school may not qualify, however, if it has a large achievement gap or a low graduation rate. Of the 16 schools, 13 are in the Shelby County Schools district. Four of those are charter schools. In the Shelby County suburban districts, Bartlett City Schools, Arlington Community Schools and Collierville Schools also had schools on the Reward list.While no Achievement School District schools were on the Reward School list, one exited the Priority List of bottom 5 percent schools and one was recognized for improvement.Schools in the bottom 5 percent are required to have an intervention plan starting next year under the new federal education law. Many schools already do, including being placed in the SCS iZone, which has a longer school day, or the state-run Achievement School District.For the last six years, being in the bottom 5 percent without showing improvement has meant possible state takeover. That will continue to be the case, but now districts will have a guaranteed first crack at improving a school before takeover is a possibility.Treadwell was in danger of takeover Continue Reading

A Shelby County school went nearly a year without a chemistry teacher – and no students passed the test

A Shelby County high school went most of last year without a chemistry teacher, relying instead on a substitute who was not required to have a teaching license or a background in chemistry.The arrangement had dire consequences on student learning at Booker T. Washington — none of the 65 students who took the state test in chemistry at the end of the year was proficient, and 92 percent fell into the lowest scoring category.The previous year, 42 percent of the 66 students who took the same test were proficient.The permanent chemistry teacher left in November after being promoted to another position within Shelby County Schools, according to the district. The job at BTW went unfilled the rest of the year. But an unknown number of people who met state qualifications applied for the job, but were not hired, according to district officials. The school now has a chemistry teacher, but the long-term vacancy raises questions about the freedom of principals to pick their team and whether they should fill the job immediately with the best person available or wait for someone who is a better fit on their team. Legal questionsThere are also possible legal implications, as well, as state law specifies a substitute teacher who is in a core class more than 20 days must be licensed and endorsed to teach that subject.When asked about the credentials of the substitute in the BTW chemistry class, the SCS communications staff responded in an email: "All substitute teachers are required to have a bachelor’s degree and a minimum GPA of 2.75."Despite requests for clarification about whether the teacher had a teaching license and was endorsed to teach chemistry, the district did not provide additional information.Tennessee Department of Education spokeswoman Sara Gast said the state will contact SCS "to learn more about this situation" and ensure systems are in place so it isn't repeated.State records show the same chemistry teacher 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

Shelby County Schools rejects state’s order to share student information with charters

Shelby County Schools will join its Nashville counterparts in standing firm against the Tennessee Department of Education in its insistence the districts release student information to be given to charter schools.The Shelby board voted 7-0 Tuesday night, with board members Billy Orgel and Scott McCormick absent, to alter language in a previous amendment to make more solid its position against releasing the information. ► More: SCS holds firm against releasing students' private information The decision could trigger legal action from the state, which has already filed a lawsuit against Metro Nashville Public Schools for the same decision.Chief Counsel Rodney Moore said the vote represented the final stance of the district, which has taken more of a cautious approach than MNPS in defying the state's orders. Moore said he was waiting for the board's vote Tuesday to notify the state of the district's position.The state has already filed a lawsuit against the Nashville district to compel the release of student information, which includes students' names, phone numbers, grade levels and addresses. Education department officials said previously they were waiting for a final decision from SCS to decide how to move forward."We are disappointed by this decision from the Shelby County Schools Board of Education as we in good faith provided the district with additional time to comply," state spokeswoman Chandler Hopper said in an emailed response to the SCS vote Tuesday night. "We will evaluate our options in considering next steps." ► More: Tennessee AG: Nashville Memphis must hand over student data In August, the board approved a resolution resisting the idea of releasing the information, which they allege charter schools want for recruitment purposes, but allowed for a period of review while parents had the chance to opt out of their child's information being shared. About 7,700 parents did so.Board member Chris Caldwell on Continue Reading