Who’s to blame?

Towards the end of the school year, I received an anonymous note from one of my students. However, the identity of the student was easily recognizable by the handwriting.

M, the student from whom the note was written, was one of my top students. She is not only naturally intelligent but hardworking, passionate and meticulously organized. If I missed a beat in my lesson, she was right there to help me fill in whatever sentence I was stumbling over. Which is why I was surprised by what she wrote.

In this note, M confided that she was feeling overwhelmed by the surmounting pressure concerning the upcoming end-of-year assessments. She expressed that she was not only nervous about taking the tests, but that she felt like she was going to let her family and teachers down if she did not do well.

I was troubled by this note for obvious reasons, but after careful deliberation I responded to M’s note. I told her that I was proud of her, that I was rooting for her, and to give it her best effort. My response seems trite.

I wanted to say more though; I wanted to reassure M and tell her not to worry. I couldn’t honestly say those things  because I was worried too.

Starting around the time we returned from winter break, I began to hear the terms “testing season” and “test prep” quite frequently. By February, we were discussing test preparation strategies that we could incorporate into our daily lessons.

In meetings, we would discuss such questions as, “How can we modify our lessons to prepare students for what we they will see on the test?”

In April, we set aside a whole two weeks strictly for remediation and test preparation. We analyzed our data for deficits and weak points and intentionally lesson planned to address these areas. We diligently worked to prepare our students, taking the time to painstakingly review prior tests and work through previously wrong answered questions.

Apparently, this wasn’t enough.

TNReady, part of Tennessee’s Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP), released student test scores from the 2017-18 school year last Thursday, July 19, 2018. There were some areas of growth. Nevertheless, the overall results were not great—actually, far from it.

Elementary statewide proficiency in English/language arts went up to 35.7% from 33.9 in 2017; high school statewide proficiency in math went up to 22.5% from 21.5 percent in 2017. Across all other content areas and grade levels, scores either remained stagnant or went down.

It’s easy to attribute blame to large institutions; yet, if we indulge in a minute of introspection, we might be a little more hesitant to cast the first stone.

The school system is comprised of individuals—people like you and me. If we are not directly involved in the school system, we are involved indirectly—as parents, students, and at large—as members of our communities.

When I think of the challenges our school district and the public education system in general are facing, this quote by Walter Dyer from “The Richer Life” comes to mind:

“…and we endeavor to solve their problems en masse, by formulating a remedy for the ills of a group. The needs of an individual are lost sight of in contemplating the needs of society.”

We need to start being accountable in our individual roles as teachers, parents, students, policy makers, government representatives—heck, even Secretary of Education.

Memphis school board candidates speak out on what they want to change

Fifteen people are vying for four seats on the Shelby County Schools board this year. That’s much higher stakes compared to two years ago when five seats were up for election with only one contested race.

The election is Thursday, Aug. 2 with early voting starting Friday, July 13.

To learn more about these candidates and meet them in person, be sure to attend our forum 6:00 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, July 19 at BRIDGES.

Note: School board candidates Roderic Ford, Percy Hunter, and Alvin Crook did not respond to the survey questions. We have included some general information about each of those candidates.

Read more here

Setting the Bar High

In school, Ginny Terrell was that kid. You know, the one that was called stupid. The one no one thought would achieve much. That was Ginny.  The naysayers were wrong though, because now Ginny is teaching students who are undervalued and underestimated and she is setting the bar high-not low-for her students.

“If you think you have arrived in teaching, you need to retire.“

Read more here

Rethinking School Discipline: Focusing on Student Needs


On Monday, July 9, 2018, a group of Memphis parents, educators, and education advocates gathered with Stand for Children to discuss the need to rethink school discipline policies to focus on student needs. The driving question posed was, “What skills do students in Memphis need to access the lives they deserve?” The goal was to focus on identifying not only the skills students need to have, but the skills we, as adults, need to internalize that will allow us to be proactive about student discipline. The idea is to achieve this by focusing on assets rather than on punitive measures and behaviors.

Fifteen states specifically allow schools to use of corporal punishment, while eight other states have no laws or regulations against it.  Tennessee is one of the states that still allows corporal punishment as a form of discipline within its schools, according to the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments.

Tennessee’s law 49-6-4103 explicitly states, “Any teacher or school principal may use corporal punishment in a reasonable manner against any pupil in order to maintain discipline and order within the public schools.” Let’s be clear; however, corporal punishment is not allowed in all schools in Tennessee, only some.

For example, the Shelby County school district in Memphis does not have policies in place that allow corporal punishment. Public charter schools in SCS, though they may operate in accordance with many SCS policies, still maintain autonomy under their charter to implement practices—whether they be academic or behavioral—that they deem best suit the needs of their students.

Therefore, even though the Shelby County School Board of Education voted 13-2 in 2013 to repeal the corporal punishment policy, corporal punishment does still take place within SCS.

As suggested by the title of this gathering, the people in attendance were there because of the recognition of the fact that there is a huge gap between what we expect and anticipate for our students and how we are helping them get there. Across SCS, discipline is an issue that varies greatly and in extreme measures from school to school.

Cathy Emerson, a school psychologist, and Shanieka Smith, a school counselor joined us for the evening, prefacing the discussion with the story of a student who had been failed by the school system. Sadly, the story of this particular student sounded all too familiar

This student, called Quo* was significantly behind academically and although he had support from his family and school, he lacked the skills he needed to be successful without consistent guidance. Unfortunately, Quo became the status of the latter. While Quo was on the right track and progressing academically, he was still missing the fundamental skills to be able to cope with the rigor and various tensions of his environment. As a result, Quo found himself in a system far less (or maybe comparably) forgiving than the public-school system: the prison system.

During the meeting, an equity based protocol for rethinking school discipline was given:

Empathy and high expectations

Quality teaching

Understanding and personalization

Incident response

Team approach

You focused policy

Oftentimes, our schools focus so heavily on what students lack and reinforce these deficits through punitive measures. How might our schools be different if we focused on working with students to help them develop healthy emotional, physical, and cognitive practices that enabled them to better self-direct?

This is Part 1 in a series dedicated to rethinking school discipline.

*Name changed for protection

Black with Kids – It’s NOT Magic


Being a mother of a Black pre-teen is more than a notion. In wanting to validate the greatness within my daughter, and even in others, I have often said the phrase “Black Girl Magic.”

“Work your Black Girl Magic!”

“Sprinkle that Black Girl Magic, hunny!”

“Yessss! That Black Girl Magic is shining!”

In saying it to my daughter once, I began to think about what “magic” really is.


a : the use of means (such as charms or spells) believed to have supernatural power over natural forces

b : magic rites or incantations (spells)

This has bothered me for some time. I wrote a blog for my young Black girls – requesting her to shine her Black Girl Magic at all times.

But what am I really saying? What are we really saying when we say this to our youth and sisters?

Why do we consider the excellence in which we move and be, to be magical? As if there lies no merit in it being just who we are, the perfectly designed being that is purposed to be great? Since when did accomplishments be diminished to being magic? Something supernatural, occurring under a spell or charm?

Why is this considered a phrase of validation?

I recall some of my favorite movies, Disney movies of course, where magic was a central element.  Aladdin and The Princess and the Frog. In both, the element of magic was used to alter reality. In Aladdin, the Genie gives supernatural gifts to Prince Aladdin to change his life; in The Princess and the Frog, the Shadow Man uses magic to alter reality in the most dark ways.

But we congratulate our girls by telling them they are Black Girl Magic?

I became furious! Maybe unwarranted, yet there were continuous thoughts of contradictions and confusion that followed.

Why can’t we just be great? Why we gotta always be magical?

Why are we so bent on being celebrated in the most interesting ways, that we forget that we are just being who we are designed to be? Would we really say, White Girl Magic? Or do we see a separate standard for ourselves that we must continuously paint a picture of make-believe for our youth?

Why must be supernatural when we exhibit what it looks like to operate in our individual gifts?

Anita Baker said it best,

The story ends, as stories do

Reality steps into view

No longer living life in paradise-or fairy tales

We are not in a fairy tale, (are there black fairy tales?) but in the reality that, in America, we have gassed up our black girls and boys by equating the actuality of their limitless potential and abilities with magic.

From now on, I think I’ll just say,

“You go girl!”

How to Deal with Uninvolved Parents

By Andrew Pillow 

If you are a teacher, then chances are you have dealt with many different types of parents. There are many actions parents take that teachers find annoying. You have the parents that never think their kids do anything wrong. You have the helicopter parents that are over-involved. By far, the most difficult parents to deal with are the ones from which you hear nothing at all.

Uninvolved parents are the bane of many teachers’ existence. It’s hard enough to reach children as it is. It gets significantly harder if you can’t reach their parents.  Parents who don’t answer calls or show up to conferences leave a bad taste in the mouths of teachers, but dealing with parents is part of the job. So how exactly do you effectively deal with uninvolved parents?

1.       Don’t assume it’s because they don’t care

Often time teachers make the mistake of assuming parents that are uninvolved don’t care or are uninterested. There are some parents who don’t care, but most want to see their children do well in school, even if they don’t show it the way teachers feel like they should.

2.       Examine the barriers stopping them

There could be any number of reasons parents are “uninvolved.”  They may not have a working phone to answer your calls. They may not have adequate transportation to attend school functions. They may work multiple jobs or the night shift which makes them unavailable at normal times.

Some of these obstacles, such as needing a phone, are actually quite fixable, but schools and teachers have to examine the barriers preventing parents from participating to remedy the situation.

3.       Be more flexible

Sometimes a school’s systems and methods are too rigid to accommodate parents with unusual circumstances and conferences are a good example.

Can you really hold it against a parent if they can’t take off of work in the middle of the day to show up at a parent-teacher conference? Why not allow the conference to be scheduled at a different time more conducive to their schedule? Do meetings have to take place at the school? If parents don’t have transportation, doesn’t it make sense for the teachers and admin to visit them?

These are the kind of actions schools need to think about if they really want to include uninvolved parents.

4.       Leverage other people

Sometimes that parent that doesn’t answer your calls has a great relationship with a teacher from last year or another class. What did that teacher do that you didn’t?

The father who doesn’t show up to a parent-teacher conference may occasionally show up to basketball games and has a good relationship with the coach. Why not ask the coach to pass on a message to the father?

Trying to get your disinterested parent to show up for literacy night, but can’t reach them? What about asking the parent that goes to the same church to relay the invite?

Unfortunately, varying degrees of parent involvement is simply part of being a teacher, but schools need to make sure they have exhausted all options before they declare a parent “uninvolved.”

*Calling all young Queens*

The QueenEsteem Agency is proud to host the first annual 2018 Summer Queen Rally, Saturday, July 21st, 2018 from 9AM-2PM at LeMoyne Owen College! 

QueenEsteem, founded by sisters Jaida Elise and Joia Erin, promotes astronomical self-confidence for girls and collaboration with other local groups.

The event is for girls 3rd – 12th Grade in Memphis and The Midsouth area. We are offering a mini 1-day conference along with interactive small group sessions promoting and enhancing confidence, integrity, professionalism and leadership. Seats are limited!

Morning Sessions include powerful chants & cheers and afternoon sessions include grade related confidence-building small groups! 

For ticket information-please visit Eventbrite:


If you are interested in joining the movement, volunteer or booking opportunity- please email: queenesteem901@gmail.com.

Nonprofit Highlight: The College Initiative

Memphis is home to a lot of nonprofits and organizations committed to giving back to the community, serving families in a variety of ways, and helping to advance the city forward by assisting the underserved.  One of the newest organizations in our city has committed to serving the high school student population in helping them prepare successfully for college and life beyond high school.

The College Initiative (TCI), founded in 2013, provides college-capable, low-income high school students with the tools and mentorship they need to successfully apply to and succeed in college. The College Initiative (TCI) forms partnerships with school districts, energetic teachers, and college student volunteers to ensure that every student aspiring to go to college will have the opportunity to do so.

I recently met with one the of the Program Coordinators of the College Initiative, Ms. April Terrell and obtained her insight around the future goals of the program. April’s primary goal and hope is centered around students becoming more prepared as it relates to college.  She wants them to have a better understanding of the financial implications associated with choosing and attending a college, awareness of financial aid resources, and learning the various resources (advisors, writing labs, career services) available on a college campus to students.

Another area in which April helps students directly is by assisting them with social-work-school balance. April believes that students must be able to find the balance between these factors without having to suffer academically and/or becoming overwhelmed by wanting a fulfilling well-rounded college experience.

As TCI enters into its 6th year, the team is thinking strategically around ways to engage more community partners and organizations with existing youth programs like Boys & Girls Club, Girls, Inc., Streets Ministries, Ballet Memphis, etc. To date, TCI has worked with several community partners and organizations such as: UCAN of Memphis, TN Federation for Children, Young Actors Guild, City of Memphis-Office of Youth Services, and the Destiny House (just to name a few).

April is looking forward to watching the work unfold and assisting students with the post-secondary success. It is her hope that TCI is able to expand upon its mission and work with more high schools in the years to come.

The College Initiative (TCI) can be located via social media using the hashtag #theCollegeInitiative. *To contact April about the College Initiative, you can email her at april.terrell@thecollegeinitiative.org


What about those kids?

By Elizabeth Jepsen


Protesting about poverty. Policy for political change. Picket lines and signs.

Crowds of bitter faces chanting and demanding—not asking for—change.

How does this image of activism compare to the one your mind conjured up when you read that word? If the images look similar, keep reading.

I’m very conscious of words. I remember when I was a kid, watching a movie or listening to someone talk and hearing a new word. Almost immediately, my mind would become preoccupied by letter combinations as I tried to reason out how that word was spelled. Then, I’d try to figure out what it meant based on how it was used.

As I grew older, I began to notice that sometimes words could have a meaning different from their literal meaning, based on how they were used. For example, like when my older brother looked at me from across the breakfast table and said “Nice hair, Lizzie!”—emphasis on the word nice and subsequent laughter.

To state the obvious, my brother didn’t really think my hair looked nice. Instead, it was his way of making fun of me without deliberately saying “Your hair looks ugly,” which most definitely would have garnered more attention from my mom, if she had happened to hear. This way, he could get in his little jab and defend it, albeit weakly, if I decided to tell on him.

When I was younger, I recognized obvious connotations, such as the aforementioned example. Yet, as an adult, I’ve begun to notice that there are many more subtle connotations that are not so innocuous as sibling banter. Like when I was asked how “those” kids’ behavior compares to others. “Those” referring to the predominantly black and brown middle schoolers I teach. For a minute, I wasn’t sure why I instantly felt annoyed by this question. The person asking hadn’t blatantly said anything rude.

Later, as I was pondering this question and trying to understand why it had bothered me, I realized that it was the connotation of the word “those” when placed in front of the word kids. It was the tone and emphasis placed on the word “those.” It was the expectancy with which the person seemingly waited to hear something negative and the mild shock when I laughed and said, “They’re pretty normal 7th graders. Kind of hormonal and all over the place at times.”

Sometimes, the connotation of a word is more powerful than the word itself. It gives the speaker a cloak of innocence to quickly pull on when questioned because he or she didn’t “technically” say anything wrong.

Back to activism…

This word often seems to carry a negative connotation. However, I don’t think this connotation stems from how the word is used, but from how people see it portrayed. When we think of activism, the images that are most readily accessible are those that tend to triumph in the headlines of newspapers and on the covers of magazines – images that show hordes of people marching and shouting with picket signs and posters. Activism does exist elsewhere, though, and in different forms.

As a matter of fact, when I think about the social and political change that needs to happen on a large scale, I see that there is not just one way to make it happen. Consider social justice leaders Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—both were civil rights leaders and activists, but with vastly different approaches. Many say MLK was too passive and others say Malcolm X was too extreme. Nevertheless, both men undeniably had a profound impact on the previous and current generation of our society.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with the above described type of activism, there is more to it. You don’t have to possess a megaphone and rally large groups of people to be an activist. An activist is someone who fights against the status quo for political or social change—and there are many different ways to do that.

We can practice activism when we put aside our pride, prejudice, and biases and thoughtfully engage in a courageous conversation where we question what we have implicitly accepted to be the truth.

Or, in reference to the comment about “those” kids, instead of responding in annoyance for the connotation it carries, I humble myself and discard the air of righteous indignation when I remember that I, too, have made similar thoughtless comments based on ignorance—and then, after coming to this recognition, respond with kindness and the intent to build a bridge,not burn one.

This Is (Permit Patty’s) America

I’m tired of people throwing stones and then hiding their hands. Especially white people.

Yep, I said it!

BBQ Becky. Rosanne Barr and now Permit Patty.

Now she’s sorry. Now she’s saying it wasn’t racially motivated and that she never really called the police.

White privilege is something that is real and unfortunately, the 8 year old little girl has realized that way too early.

Or is it too early? It’s a shame that that is even a question these days.

As a mother of a Black girl (who is indeed magical), I am daily faced with explaining to her 10 year-old self about the racial tension that exists in the world she grows up in. I remember the times I encountered racism, the moments I “knew” I was black. As Black Americans, we have all vividly encountered those moments where we felt small, infuriated, powerful yet helpless, hopeful and proud all at the same time. The stark dichotomy of those feelings is indescribable yet I’m sure everyone reading this knows what that has felt like. Let the church say Amen!

This little 8 year-old magical Black girl decided, with her mother, to take advantage of a hot summer day and sell water in front of her property. (SN: Does the aspect of property really matter? I’m sure it does, so for the sake of this argument, let’s just pretend it was the city’s property).

Sure, water is free. But this mother, if she was anything like me, wanted to teach her daughter the most important aspect of entrepreneurship – the art of the hustle.

Why not sell water on a hot day? How else will people know you’re selling water unless you shout it loud and proud? Why not provide a commodity to people as they walked by, while gaining the life experience of grinding.

But that’s it. White people don’t understand the grind.

Ok, ok. Let’s just say Permit Patty doesn’t.

Because if Permit Patty did, she wouldn’t have felt compelled to exhibit her white privilege in the most futile, asinine and wasteful way. Permit Patty, with her White Privilege, decided that she would teach the 8 year-old girl and her mother a lesson in what’s “right”. White right, of course. She thought it would be a good day to call her friends (ie., the police) to serve and protect her and her foolishness. Whether she called or not, the act of pretending to do so plays into the real fear and apprehension black and brown people have with law enforcement, but that’s another blog for another day.
Now, Permit Patty wants to apologize and recants the racial motivation, or lack thereof because she’s receiving death threats. Really? Really, Permit Patty. Have several seats.
Permit Patty, this is America.

This is the America we live in, where people like her feel entitled enough to a sidewalk which is most likely city property, to call the authorities to stop a little girl and her momma from selling water on a hot, summer day. The “America” that consistently tells our little black and brown girls and boys that they have a specific place and position, which completely contradicts us telling them daily that they are magical.

This is America. Where those who throw the stones run and hide their hand when they can’t take the reciprocity that exists in nature and physics – for every action there is a reaction.

This is the America that must change. Cause honestly, Permit Patty is just another representation of White America, with Dialing Debby, Snitching Stan or Patrolling Pete in the wings. We see it all too often. It’s sad that this is the America we are living in. But I’m ever so thankful that Permit Patty had just a phone and this didn’t turn into anything worse.

Even more sad that that’s a reality in this America.