As Memphis-Shelby County schools enter year two of their quest to “reinvent education,” Tennessee’s largest school district will offer teacher bonuses and increase staff health care coverage, create a work placement program for 1,000 juniors and seniors, and will explore a year-round school calendar.
Superintendent Joris Ray announced the initiatives Wednesday morning during an extravagant State of the District event at the Hilton in East Memphis featuring a live band and singers, radio DJ Stan Bell as emcee and lots of flowers and balloons. red, white and blue.
He also announced that the district will continue to focus on boosting early literacy, recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers, and reducing the K-2 student-to-adult ratio, among other initiatives. .
Referring to his visit to Nashville last week for the School Superintendents Association’s National Education Conference, Ray described the many “beautiful buildings” he saw springing up in the state capitol and the attitude positive feedback from many city residents, saying it exemplified Nashville’s goal of “Forward Together.”
Ray said the same kind of revitalization and growth is possible in Memphis if the community comes together to help Memphis-Shelby County schools continue to improve public education — what he called “the big equalizer”.
“It’s not beyond our reach…We have a recipe for being stronger together,” he told the crowd of hundreds of district employees, community leaders, school board members. and other elected officials. “The business of education is your business. It’s everyone’s business. Together, we must make education our priority investment.
Ray also touted progress toward other efforts since his last State of the District presentation in April 2021, including:
- Expand before and after school tutoring to reach 9,000 students this school year.
- Improve facilities by spending $171 million on HVAC upgrades, building and gymnasium additions, stadium and paving improvements, and fire safety systems.
Buoying up schools with millions of dollars in deferred maintenance amid declining enrollment.
- Growing global language programming from five elementary schools to 40 in a phased approach.
- Forge partnerships with organizations like First 8 Memphis and the Urban Child Institute to improve early childhood literacy.
- Increase access to advanced scholars by offering 33 additional dual-credit courses in the past year, as well as honors courses at all district-operated middle and high schools, and advanced-level courses at 96 percent of high schools.
He also highlighted the school board’s recent unanimous decision to rename the district to Memphis-Shelby Schools and unveiled the district’s new logo. Ray said he thinks changing the name of the district to better reflect the community would instill pride in students and all Memphians.
COVID Challenges and Teacher Shortages Drive Salary Increases
Ray Wednesday’s address comes as the district and others across the country continue to grapple with pandemic challenges, operating in-person schools as safely as possible and struggling to recovering from the loss of learning after months of virtual learning, to the continued shortages of teachers and school staff made worse by COVID.
Schools across the United States have been challenged to fill vacancies for more than a decade, and in Tennessee alone, the number of educators graduating from teacher-training programs has dropped by nearly a year. fifth in five years, according to a recent report.
Amid the ongoing obstacles and high stress of the pandemic, experts fear that the shortage of educators and school staff will continue to worsen. Since the start of the pandemic, employment in state and local public education has fallen nearly 5% overall — and nearly 7% among K-12 teachers alone — according to the PPE report.
A 2021 survey by the RAND Corporation found that teachers are nearly twice as likely as other employed adults to frequently experience work-related stress, and they are nearly three times more likely to experience symptoms of depression. . In January, a National Education Association poll found that more than half of members of the nation’s largest teachers’ union were planning to leave teaching sooner than expected.
After schools in Memphis-Shelby County reported opening more than 200 teaching positions in the fall, down from 63, and given the many constraints teachers continue to face, district officials decided to make teacher retention bonuses a priority, Ray said.
For the 2022-23 school year, the district will invest $11 million in its teachers by paying retention bonuses of $1,500 for teachers and a bonus of $500 for teacher assistants. Also next year, the district will pay an additional $11 million into the teacher tiered pay scale and add a new major step in the pay scale. The district also plans to spend $3 million to increase district health insurance coverage to 70 percent.
District officials hope these measures will not only encourage teachers to keep their jobs, but also encourage others to pursue a career in teaching.
Calling Wednesday a “great day for educators and students,” Danette Stokes, president of the United Education Association of Memphis, said in a Tweeter that the initiatives were the result of months of collaboration to increase teacher compensation. In other Tweetershe thanked Ray and the other administrators for listening to the voices of teachers and principals.
Ray has repeatedly touted the district’s progress in reducing the K-2 student-to-adult ratio by hiring 750 special education assistants to help teachers with classroom tasks so they can focus on learning. ‘education.
Ray also acknowledged that the pandemic has hampered those efforts. When the omicron variant first appeared in Memphis last month, it was common for support staff to replace teachers, or for two or three classrooms to be combined into a larger space like a cafeteria or auditorium.
Ray pointed out that all district-operated schools remained open.
“When you’re a principal, it’s about educating the students, but sometimes it’s also about having a body with the students,” Ray said. “With the labor shortage, our SEAs sometimes wear two hats. They are in our K-2 classes, but if they are needed in other classes to help fill that void, they do just that.
District to “explore” the school all year round
While boosting teacher recruitment and retention is central to Ray’s plans, he also touted several new student-centric initiatives focused on recovering from pandemic learning loss.
A year-round school calendar could be one such solution, Ray said, suggesting it could prevent the summer school drop and give students more time in class to focus on literacy and math.
While most American schools follow the traditional 10-month calendar, yearly calendars have grown in popularity in recent years, especially in districts that primarily serve low-income students. Former Superintendent Dorsey Hopson originally floated the idea of a year-round school in 2017.
According to the National Summer Learning Association, students living in poverty are more likely than their more affluent peers to fall behind academically during the long summer vacation. In Memphis, nearly 60% of students are considered economically disadvantaged.
On Wednesday, Ray was quick to point out “before I start getting tomatoes thrown at me” that the district was just exploring the idea and students would still have multiple 2-4 week breaks. Ray did not give a start date for the school all year, saying the district still has a lot of research to do.
Either way, Ray said any change in the length of the school year will result in a further increase in teacher pay.
“We can’t do this job without them,” he said.
Other district efforts to strengthen college and career readiness include automatically enrolling all qualified students in grades seven through 12 in honors English, math, and science courses, an initiative according to Ray that could recruit students who would not have enrolled otherwise.
The district also marked the launch of the “Power 1,000” internship program, which will allow high school juniors and seniors to work for district leaders and partner companies for up to 10 hours per week. Not only would the students gain valuable experience outside of the classroom, but the jobs would pay more than minimum wage, Ray said.
Speaking to reporters after the event, Memphis-Shelby County Schools Board Chair Michelle McKissack said she came away with a sense of hope, especially when it comes to the fight. against early childhood literacy and the use of ESSER funding for expenses such as expanding tutoring and upgrading much-needed facilities.
“For the first time in a long time, we have a foot,” she said. “We have money that we never had before to make a difference academically and in buildings.”
A day before the state releases a new proposal on how to fund K-12 schools, Ray pointed out that after years of underfunding, large urban districts like Memphis are going to need a boost. long-term financial thumb as they attempt to rebound from the pandemic and overall improve public education.
When he walks through other communities near Memphis that aren’t chronically underfunded, Ray can’t help but notice “beautiful and beautiful” school buildings and sports fields.
“I want the same for our kids in Memphis-Shelby County. I want the best for our children — that’s dreaming big, he says. “But these things cost money.”
Samantha West is a reporter for Chalkbeat Tennessee, where she covers K-12 education in Memphis. Connect with Samantha at [email protected]