Stand for November 10 Children: Our Voice, Our Schools 2011 Beginning in May 2011, Stand for Children began a survey designed to give the community a voice in the debate about the design, priorities, services offered, and the role of the community in a consolidated Shelby Executive County School District. We hope that this data will be a key resource for the Transition Committee and help keep education at the forefront of the Summary public discourse. 1 Overview: In recent months the community has seen public education become a priority. This has brought considerable attention to the issues of education in our community; however, this has been led by elected and appointed officials. Stand for Children believes those appointed represent a broad and diverse segment of the population, but we maintain that the active engagement of the community is essential to make the work of the transition committee whole. Therefore, we believe the wishes and dreams of the community, especially those closest to the education system, must be included in the decision-making, leadership, and direction taken concerning the future of education in Shelby County. To make this happen, Stand for Children has been leading a campaign to capture the community’s voice concerning the consolidation of our school districts through online surveys, on the ground canvassing in intentional communities (40 zip codes), and through voter registration log phone banking. Stand Members and staff in collaboration with the University Of Memphis Department Of Urban Education have crafted a community survey, which seeks to illicit information that will help shape the debate about how to consolidate Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools. These questions have been carefully selected based on best practices of districts throughout the country, innovative priorities recognized by the U.S Department of Education, theories of family and community engagement, and local expert knowledge. The survey has been crafted not as a sounding board for concerns and critiques of the current systems, but rather to look beyond to what is possible, to what’s best for all the children of Shelby County. The information gathered offers a medium for incorporating the community voice into shaping, planning and implementing new best practices for the unified school system. The scope of the survey gives insights into the community’s wishes concerning the design, services offered, priorities, administration, and the very role of the community in a consolidated district. The idea of canvassing a large section of Shelby County both geographically (over 40 zip codes) and numerically (663) is also to keep education at the forefront of the public discourse. We do not want to see the current focus on the importance of a quality education for all children lost. By harnessing and cataloging the community’s input around these seminal issues we can forge a unified school system with profound legitimacy. The results of the survey, which remains open, offer deep insight into the priorities and urgency of our diverse community. The survey is also an integral part of Stand for Children’s broader campaign, Put Education First, to ensure the community is engage and committed to a high quality education for all children in Shelby County. This executive summary provides an overview of some of the findings as well as suggestions about the possibility to expand its reach and content to assist the Transition Committee throughout the consolidation process. 2 Findings (Complete List of survey questions are found in Appendix A): A major focus of the survey is around what priorities the transition committee should focus on while working towards consolidating the district. The following five priorities are the top five from ALL survey respondents, 663 individuals. These priorities are also related to federal funding categories, so that we can remain solutions-oriented in our discourse. -What should the top FIVE priorities of a consolidated school district be? Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools face many of the same challenges as well as their own unique issues, the priorities listed below are from a list of 16 priorities for funding created by the Dept. of Education (75 Fed. Reg. 78486 (December 15, 2010) 1. Raising Academic Standards 58.2% 2. Improving School Buildings, School Environment, and School Safety 52.6% 3. Improving Family and Community Engagement 50.1% 4. Improving early learning opportunities 46.8% 5. Turning Around the Persistently Lowest-achieving Schools 46.2% (very close to this were two other priorities similar in nature: Improving Achievement (closing the achievement Gap between minority and white students and overall achievement) 45.7%, and Improving the Effectiveness and Distribution of the Best Teachers and Principals 45.4%) 3 In relation to these top priorities there are several questions that resulted in interesting findings concerning the academic offerings, operation and design, and policies of the district: Academic Offerings A majority of respondents thought the following about the Academic Offerings of new district: There should be universal access to public Pre-K (a majority, although depending on how much, were willing to see an increase in local taxes to provide for this); Students should have the opportunity to study both academic and vocational curriculums; and there should be schools in the district that focus on specific content (i.e. arts, music, foreign language, science, etc.) Operations and Design: A majority of respondents thought the following: Students should be allowed to apply to any school in the district (although the details of this process are not specifically spelled out in the question); There should be one central district office, or one central office with multiple regional offices; Schools should do more than just teach, they should provide additional service like medical services, parent education, job trainings, and act as community centers; Parents should play an institutional leadership role in the district (decision-making input around policies and programs) Policy: A majority of respondents thought the following policies should be continued or pursued: The teacher Effectiveness Initiative begun by the Gates Foundation should be continued (overwhelming support); public pre-k should be offered to all students; the district help schools have a more diverse student body (ex. The district could try to make it so schools have students from different races, economic backgrounds, achievement level, or language at each school); The district should promote policies that help recruit and engage parents in a diverse range of activities: Parenting training, communications, volunteering, learning at home, decision making, and helping the district collaborate with the community; Parents are also interested in receiving a weekly communication from the district; lastly, although not a majority, more respondents , 41.5%, thought charter schools should play an increased role in the district (although a significant group did not know 24.1%) 4 Discussion: These results are in no way definitive, we do, however, believe they are a great first step in soliciting vital feedback from the community. The survey remains open and is accessible at www.puteducationfirst.org. We believe that our commitment to this work and our attempts to get ahead of any political debates around these issues is evidence that our organization can help this committee facilitate authentic and vital community engagement and input. We are offering ourselves to this committee as a resource, tool and partner in the work moving forward. The survey itself can be used by this committee adapted and expanded as necessary. We also have built a microsite for the community to engage in this work and have their voice heard (Appendix B). The site itself can also be used by this committee moving forward to help communicate and share its work and questions with the broader community. We hope to be engaged as deeply as possible in this work and remain committed to facilitating a deep dialogue around the county to ensure that the needs and hopes for all our children are addressed by this body. Our Leadership Center is also playing an important role in the community by providing education about the consolidation process, the transition committee, and unified school board throughout the County. We will also be hosting and doing turnout for community forums around these issues and the broader issues of educational reform. These activities are another example of the services we can provide this body. Our Proposal: We ask to be included in the work of this Committee through the active engagement and education of the community around the work of the transition committee. We can help facilitate this through the use of our survey, microsite, education services, and community organizing expertise. 5 Appendix A Survey Questions: 1. Are you a parent? 2. What should the top FIVE priorities of a consolidated school district be? 3. What should students be learning in school? 4. Should schools focus on specific things? 5. Should every child be able to go to preschool for free? 6. If you would like to see preschool for every child will you help pay for it? Would you be willing to help pay for preschool through an increase in taxes? 7. Should students be able to go to any school in the district? 8. What should the new district 'look' like? (How should it be designed?) 9. Should students spend more time in school? 10. Should the consolidated school district continue the work that Memphis City Schools started to ensure there is a great teacher in every classroom through the Teacher Effectiveness Initiative(TEI)? 11. What role should Charter Schools play in the district?(Charter Schools are public schools run by groups other than the Board of Education.) 12. Should the district try to make schools have a diverse student body? 13. Should schools do more than just teach students? 14. Should parents play an important role in the district? 15. How often should the district and schools communicate with parents? 16. How should the district communicate with parents? 17. Which of the following things should parents help decide for the kids' schools? 18. What types of parental involvement should our district support? 19. If a school is failing, should parents be able to take it over and decide how it should be fixed? 20. Should parents have a say in how the districts are consolidated? 21. Do you want to know how the consolidation will affect children? 6 22. Would you like to stay updated on school consolidation through Stand for Children Appendix B www.puteducationfisrt.org The site contains video testimony from parents in both the county and city districts about priorities for the new district and how we can work together to improve education for all students. There is also a blog connected so that discussions can take place and pages with facts about our educational achievement and attainment.
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