Memphis teachers voice opinions on the effectiveness of school district changes
Every morning, Earnestine Williams stands at the doors of an East Memphis elementary school waving to student and parents as they enter the building.
For the past 15 years, she’s been the physical education teacher and Mrs. P.E to students and faculty at Sea Isle Elementary.
“I thank God for my school and these students, Williams said. This is what keeps me going”.
Williams has taught for 33 years. She’s met hundreds of students and is well known throughout the school system.
But, there have been several changes since she first started her career.
Until a few years ago, Memphis has always had two separate public school boards.
According to city employee Deborah Rivers, Memphis City Schools (MCS) served mostly African-American students from low income areas. On the other hand, Shelby County Schools (SCS) served mostly white middle and upper class families.
In 2011, Memphis citizens voted on a referendum that focused on battles involving race, poverty and taxes. It was then the city agreed on one political plan to eliminate inequality issues.
“One of the main reasons for the merging was money,” Rivers said.
Lack of resources were brought on by budget cuts and the shrinking of the economy.
“Memphis’ employment rate is condensing, less money in the city means less money for city funded projects, like public schools,” Rivers added.
Regardless of the changes, Williams never considered giving up teaching. However, it has made her job much harder. Now that systems have merged, the curriculum has too.
“We are no longer allowed to teach basic learning skills because we have to go strictly by the grade level’s course curriculum,” said Williams.
Course curriculum consists of all the things the SCS Board decides students in that grade level have to know.
Renee Meeks, Sea Isle’s principal, agrees that the changes have made it difficult. For example, students who were already behind are still struggling. And it may possibly be they’re having problems in a higher grade level.
“New changes, such as Over Age for Grade, is in full force,” Meeks said.
Over Age for Grade is a new program that allows students who are over the age for the grade they’re in to be moved to their correct grade and gain credited hours.
For example, Andrea Dandridge, a first year teacher fourth grade teacher, said a student in her class was refrained from advancing to the fifth grade. Just two weeks into this new school semester, that same student was moved from Dandridge’s fourth grade class to the fifth grade because of his age.
“I would spend a ton of extra time before and after class teaching him basic skills that should’ve been taught before he was admitted into fourth grade the previous third grade school year,” Dandridge said.
According to Williams, things like this takes away from the children’s development.
“How can you move onto the next class without mastering the one before it?” Asked Williams.
Williams also pointed out following this course curriculum requires teachers to do more paperwork for the board which eliminates time that could possibly spent with students.
“Everything that used to be traditional, like sending a homework folder home to parents, has now been changed to using technology,” Williams said.” “There’s almost no personal connection.”
Majority of the teachers are expected to update parents and communicate via email.
Shenna Peterson, a parent of a fifth grade student said receives a daily email from her son’s teacher. Email’s include homework assignments, the students progress, and other school information. Everything has been moved for students to work on computers and use technology.
This effects the students and parents that don’t access to technology. It prevents them from finding out information about assignments and parents being able to communicate with teachers.
“If you have a parent that’s barely making ends meet you can’t expect them to have these tech-savvy devices to keep up with what’s going on with their child,” said Rivers.
Meeks, Williams, Dandridge, Rivers and Peterson all agree that the school systems have changed and students aren’t receiving basic skills due to those many changes.
According to Rivers, now, before students start the grade they’re entering next, they should already have knowledge of the curriculum teachers will be teaching. This sometimes result in students being behind opposed to them advancing to the next learning skill and grade level.
“It’s not just African American students being left behind anymore, it’s all students,” Williams said.
Williams doesn’t doubt her job has indeed become a struggle, but she said it what she’s been created to do.
“Her work doesn’t go unnoticed, she’s one of the most influential people here. Her warm and enthusiastic personality keeps myself and many others around her going,” Meeks said.
However, Williams said she doesn’t work for the recognition. This is what she loves. Her joy comes from bettering students and helping anyone she can.