On the last day before hundreds of Shelby County School teachers are laid off, the district held a hiring fair at White Station Middle on Monday afternoon.

Since February, Shelby County Schools has been working to help teachers, who were losing their positions due to school closures, find other jobs in the district.  Administrators were forced to lay off a large portion of their teaching staff after they closed 10 schools and lost several thousand students to the state-run Achievement School District, new charter schools and six municipalities that split from the district.

District officials said roughly 1,000 teachers would be affected by school closures. Last week school officials said 582 teachers have been hired, leaving 345 tenured and untenured teachers waiting to be selected.  Tenured teachers not hired by Monday, were placed on a preferred list with the hopes they will be hired before the beginning of the school year. Placement on the list doesn’t guarantee a teacher a position.  An updated number of teachers on the preferred list was not immediately available on Monday evening.

SCS director of human capital Sheila Redick said the district has encouraged principals to look at the teachers on the preferred list. Disagreement over this hiring process for displaced tenured teachers prompted five educators and the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association to file a lawsuit  in May.  The tenured teachers argue that they have a right to job placement within the district.

MSCEA President Keith Williams said it’s the duty of the superintendent to assign (tenured) teachers. But Redick said the district’s principals and teachers will mutual agree to work together instead of directly assigning teachers to schools.

On Monday afternoon the parking lot of White Station Middle was completely full from the front to the rear of the building.

Vehicles circled the lot multiple times before some drivers opted to squeeze into any open space including the curbside. Teachers exiting the fair said teachers began to arrive almost an hour before the 3 p.m. start time.  One teacher said some teachers were disappointed to learn that the hiring fair was for external as well as internal job candidates.

The media is not allowed inside of the teacher hiring fairs, according to an SCS spokesperson.

Redick said the district has held three previous hiring fairs to help displaced teachers find new employment. Almost 455 teachers attended those fairs. She discussed the district’s teacher recruitment and hiring practices during an interview with Chalkbeat TN last week.

Lois McGlown was one of the external candidates looking to join the district.

“I have a business background, but I want to teach,” said McGlown standing in the crowded parking lot. McGlown described the fair as ‘very organized.’  “I realized that I didn’t have all of my paperwork filed out, so I only spoke to two people,” she said.  “But my cousin, she already has an interview scheduled.”

Of the 345 teachers Shelby County Schools administrators laid off this school year, almost a quarter of them are tenured teachers who have met or exceeded the state’s performance expectations, an administrator revealed on Tuesday.

Many of the district’s schools have been designated as failing based on their low test scores and are at risk of being taken over by the state. District officials have identified high-performing and dedicated teachers willing to work in low-income communities for several years as the key resource to improving those schools.

“It is the duty of the superintendent to assign (tenured) teachers” to a position at a school, a visibly irate Keith Williams, the president of MSCEA, said during public comment Tuesday.  “It’s immoral of the board to allow such foolishness to occur.”

Administrators were forced to lay off a large portion of their teaching staff after they closed 10 schools and lost several thousand students to the state-run Achievement School District, new charter schools and six municipalities that split from the district.

Of the 345 teachers who were laid off and still haven’t found new jobs, 150 are tenured, 98 are non-tenured and 97 worked at schools that now belong to new municipal districts that split from SCS, according to Sheila Redick, the district’s director human capital.  Of the 150 tenured teachers, 85 scored level three or above on teacher performance scores and 65 scored below state expectations.

“Superintendent Hopson and my goal was to make sure we retained the best teachers even through all the uncertainty and unknowns, we want to keep our most effective educators in front of the kids,” Redick said in an interview with Chalkbeat before Tuesday’s school board meeting.

Redick said that, in accordance with  Tennessee’s tenure law, tenured teachers who aren’t hired by Monday, June 30, would be placed on a preferred list to be hired before the beginning of the school year. Being on the list doesn’t guarantee a teacher a position. Redick said all employees without a position were informed they were being laid off during a meeting last Tuesday.

The lawsuit filed by MSCEA contends that the burden to place tenured teachers lies with Hopson and his staff.  But Hopson has said they will not continue to pay tenured teachers who haven’t found jobs by June 30.  “We’re following the law,” he said Tuesday.

Myrtle Malone, a high-performing tenured teacher at Gordon Elementary School, has worked with the district for 41 years but was given a letter signed by Hopson this past spring that said she would be out of a job because the district decided to close her school due to millions of dollars worth of maintenance needs and low-enrollment.

Malone could retire, but she wants to keep teaching.

“I’ve applied, but I haven’t heard back from anyone,” Malone said.

She told board members Tuesday that an administrator informed her and several other displaced teachers how to purchase food stamps at a recent meeting.

For the 1,000 teachers who worked at a closing school, the district has held three hiring fairs to help displaced teachers find new employment. Almost 455 teachers attended those fairs.  Redick said they have hired 584 teachers from those schools.

This is the first year the district used a new “mutual consent” policy that requires the teacher and the principal to want to work together. In prior years, principals were forced to hire teachers based off seniority or teachers were placed by senior-level administrators.

“Direct placement of teachers has a negative impact on teacher effectiveness,” Redick said.  “Last year we direct-placed 30 teachers and we tracked their performance and it’s a full point lower than teachers hired by mutual consent.”

Redick said she anticipates another 200 to 400 positions opening in late July due to late retirees, resignations or teachers who didn’t get their licenses renewed. Redick said the district is not taking employee layoffs lightly.

“Our goal is to continue supporting teachers,” Redick said. “Even though June 30 is their last day, it’s absolutely not the last day for opportunities.  This is an ongoing process.  Be active, be engaged.  If there are additional hiring fairs, be sure to attend and sell yourself, use your connections and talk about your performance. Talk about how you’ve moved students to grow and learn.”

 

 

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at tcheshier@chalkbeat.org and (901) 730-4013.

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