Monday, August 30, 2010

Midnight Ride Hit and Run

Posted By on Mon, Aug 30, 2010 at 1:33 PM

I've heard two accounts this morning of a hit-and-run during the middle of Saturday night's popular Midnight Classic Bike Tour.

Apparently, around 12:30 a.m. Sunday morning, a male cyclist was approaching the intersection of Madison and Cooper and was waved on by the police officer directing traffic.

The cyclist was then hit by a dark-colored vehicle traveling on Madison at about 30 to 40 mph. The driver did not stop.

Eyewitnesses say the west-bound lane of Madison was blocked off by police, but no one was in charge of the east-bound lane. (UPDATE: From other reports I've gotten, it seems the officer had east-bound traffic stopped, but no one was directing west-bound traffic and the light at the intersection was green.)

The cyclist was taken to the Med, but that's about all I know right now. Check back for more details.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

More With MCS Consultant Jeffrey Hernandez

Posted By on Thu, Aug 26, 2010 at 8:45 AM

As part of this week's print extravaganza, I interviewed controversial Memphis City Schools (MCS) consultant Jeffrey Hernandez. His $1,500-a-day consulting fee, coupled with an intense animosity for him from some parents in Palm Beach County and his ties to superintendent Kriner Cash and deputy superintendent Irving Hamer, have caused questions about his employment at MCS.

As the chief academic officer for the Palm Beach County School system, Hernandez installed centralized lesson plans for teachers, frequent student assessments, and Saturday classes for struggling students. The resulting controversy included a Facebook page, Testing is Not Teaching, and after only a few months, Hernandez was reassigned to work only with low-performing schools and the district went back to a decentralized system.

During the last few months of his contract there, however, Hernandez was concurrently working for MCS as a consultant.

And In June, when his contract was officially up in Palm Beach, one of the blogs for the Palm Beach Post reported that the schools that used Hernandez's methods showed gains on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test while those that didn't, didn't.

You can read the print Q&A here. Other portions of the interview are excerpted below:

Flyer: How did you begin your career in education?

Hernandez: I started as an office secretary in an elementary school. I started from the perspective of the bottom up. I worked with a phenomenal principal and he mentored me.

How old were you at the time?

I was 16. I had just graduated from high school ... I was one of several students across the district selected to do high school in two years. I then became a teacher in the inner city.

After spending 7 years as an assistant principal, former Miami-Dade County superintendent Rudy Crew then appointed you as principal. How was that?

Crew came and opened the School Improvement Zone. I was one of the principals he appointed the day before school started. It was an inner-city high school populated mostly by Haitian Creole students. We had 100 percent free/reduced lunch. The day before school started, we had 16 teacher openings, no books, a negative budget by about $50,000, and graffiti all over the school.

Crew is like superintendent Cash. By Monday, the school had to look like I'd been there all summer. I took that school from a D to an A and we maintained an A for three years.

You have a history of turning around failing schools. How do you do it?

Continue reading »

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Art Scene

Posted By on Tue, Aug 24, 2010 at 3:55 PM

(Sorry posting has been so light thus far in the week. It's been crazy busy around here. ... To pique your interest for tomorrow's paper, we've got stories on the city's withdrawn non-discrimination clause and proposed bike lanes in Cooper-Young, and an interview with MCS consultant Jeffrey Hernandez.)

Last night, I stopped in at Playhouse on the Square for "The Art Seen," a cocktail party with the city's arts organizations.

With 37 arts organizations involved, including Ballet Memphis, the Orpheum, the Memphis Music Foundation, and the UrbanArt Commission, more than 400 people rsvped.

"Our goal was to have 200 people rsvp and sell 50 memberships to Tennesseans for the Arts," said Playhouse managing director Whitney Jo.

Both of which they met handily.

Jo encouraged attendees to buy Tennessee Arts Commission specialty license plates to raise money, noting how supportive the arts groups are of each other.


"That was proved by tonight," she said. "When we found out how many people were coming, we realized we needed more food. Everyone ran home and made brownies."

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Dance and Data of the Lemons

Posted By on Fri, Aug 20, 2010 at 4:47 PM

Last week, the LA Times began an ambitious series focused on teacher effectiveness at the Los Angeles Unified School District. Using value-added data compiled from seven years of math and English test scores, the newspaper is exploring the (often, quite large) disparities between effective and ineffective teachers.

The fifth-graders at Broadous Elementary School come from the same world — the poorest corner of the San Fernando Valley, a Pacoima neighborhood framed by two freeways where some have lost friends to the stray bullets of rival gangs.

Many are the sons and daughters of Latino immigrants who never finished high school, hard-working parents who keep a respectful distance and trust educators to do what's best.

The students study the same lessons. They are often on the same chapter of the same book.

Yet year after year, one fifth-grade class learns far more than the other down the hall. The difference has almost nothing to do with the size of the class, the students or their parents.

It's their teachers.

As Memphis is all well aware, teachers are traditionally viewed as if one is just as good as any other, even though principals and teachers know they're not. That's what the MCS teacher effectiveness initiative is striving to solve, in part by bringing less effective teachers up to the same level as their effective counterparts. Because of tenure, it can be difficult to get rid of an ineffective teacher.

(In Waiting for Superman, the movie references what is called "the dance of the lemons," wherein the teachers that principals dub lemons are fobbed off on other schools at the end of each school year. There are other names for it, but the movie calls it "the dance of the lemons," and I have it on good authority that's what it's called here, too.)

The investigation found that the best teachers were not concentrated in the most influential neighborhoods, that a child's teacher had three times more influence on the student's academic success as the school they were enrolled in, and that a teacher's experience or training had little bearing on whether they improved their students' performance.

There is some question as to the validity of value-added data, and the local teachers union has already called for a boycott of the LATimes over the series.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Zipped Up

Posted By on Thu, Aug 19, 2010 at 3:52 PM

Car-sharing is going to college.

Rhodes College just announced car-sharing service Zipcar will be on campus this fall.

For $35 a year, members can rent a Zipcar by the hour or the day, with $35 in free driving their first month of membership. Reservations are made on the internet or by cellphone, and in-car technology unlocks the car doors and reports the car's location.


"We looked at it a few years ago when it was a fledgling operation, but at that time, users had to be 21 years old," said Tracy Adkisson, the associate director of physical plant. "It wasn't ideal then. Now they've changed the program to accommodate college and universities so that people 18 to 21 can join."

The school hopes the service might help, in part, with parking issues on campus.

"It is an excellent way to conserve parking spaces and provides an alternative to those not requiring daily transportation," John Blaisdell, Rhodes' associate dean of students, said in a statement. "I believe the ease of use should make the program a success."

Adkisson also cites sustainability and student service as reasons to have Zipcar on campus.

"One of the main reasons is to give students who don't bring a car to campus a viable alternative and to give students an alternative to bringing a car to campus," she said.

Rhodes is the third location in Tennessee for Zipcars. The others are Belmont and Vanderbilt universities in Nashville.

The school's two Zipcars — one a hybrid — are scheduled to arrive Tuesday and will soon be available for pickup in the Briggs Student Center parking lot. For more info, click here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Who Is MCS Consultant Jeffrey Hernandez?

Posted By on Tue, Aug 17, 2010 at 5:07 PM

The Commercial Appeal reported yesterday that the Memphis City Schools had quietly hired consultant Jeffrey Hernandez, a former associate of superintendent Kriner Cash's from the Miami-Dade Public School District, at a rate of $1,500 a day to turn around its lowest-performing schools.

Like members of the school board, we wondered exactly who this guy was. Here's what we found.

In April of this year, the Palm Beach Post called him the "most despised person in the Palm Beach County school system" in a story about him vying for a superintendent position in two other Florida counties:

Stripped of most of his duties as the district's chief academic officer in December to appease angry parents and teachers, it was clear his $180,366 contract wouldn't be extended when it expires June 30.

Still, reaction to Saturday's news from his critics was as venomous as that which was unleashed on him shortly after the curriculum he devised was put in place in August.

"Thank God, he's leaving Palm Beach County," said Stacy Gutner, a Boynton Beach woman who was a vocal critic of the test-heavy curriculum Hernandez developed.

Continue reading »

The Silent Part of Rock for Love

Posted By on Tue, Aug 17, 2010 at 12:06 PM

The Church Health Center's Rock for Love 4 kicks off this Friday — and I'm sure you can get more about that in our music section — but the event's silent auction is going on now.

Since its founding in 2007, Rock for Love has been produced in partnership with Makeshift Music as a way to raise money for the Center and celebrate the diversity of Memphis music with performances by some of the city’s best bands and artists.

The silent auction has generally been held at the event, but this year organizers have changed it up, putting it online from August 1st to the 21st.

The offerings include:

A specialized Rockhopper Pro from Revolutions


Eight individually autographed Grizzlies posters


and lunch with Church Health Center founder Scott Morris.


To bid, go here.

For more info on Rock for Love, go here. (I know, this post is totally linkalicious.)

At the event, the Memphis Roller Derby will be hosting a merchandise table with a variety of CDs, T-shirts, records and other merchandise available for purchase, all to benefit the Center.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Not Just Your Average Pedestrian Report

Posted By on Mon, Aug 16, 2010 at 12:56 PM

The city of New York released a traffic study today on pedestrian safety, showing exactly when, where, and why pedestrian accidents are likely to occur in the city.

From today's NYTimes:

This is the Rosetta Stone for safety on the streets of New York,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s transportation commissioner.

The findings could also become a tool for the Bloomberg administration to extend its re-engineering of the city’s street grid, which it says saves lives. Those changes, which have angered many drivers, include barring vehicles from major avenues and replacing hundreds of parking spaces with bicycle lanes and walkways.

Among the findings, garnered from data of more than 7,000 crashes between 2002 and 2006 that resulted in the death or serious injury of pedestrians, was that inattention was the cause of most of the accidents. That and that in 80 percent of the cases involving death or serious injury, the driver was male.

The study also examined what times of day, which streets, and what months were more dangerous for pedestrians. The city is planning to make a series of changes based on the report.

Planned Retirement

Posted By on Mon, Aug 16, 2010 at 8:45 AM

Mary Baker, a longtime staff member with the Memphis and Shelby County Division of Planning and Development, announced last week she was retiring.

The highly respected Baker joined land use in 1985 and has been the deputy director since 1997.

"I'm so glad I did it as long as I did," she says. "I'm ready to rest for a little bit."

She notes that she'd like to do some other things, but didn't elaborate.

Baker leaves on something of a high note with the unified development code passing both the Memphis City Council and the Shelby County Commission last week, as well as approval last week of the new Midtown Overlay District by the Land Use Control Board. The Midtown plan now has to go before the City Council.

"It's time to go," Baker says.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Wharton To Implement City Whistle-Blower System

Posted By on Thu, Aug 12, 2010 at 4:55 PM

Memphis mayor A C Wharton presented his administration's preliminary report on the city's beleaguered general services division this afternoon, saying the problems seemed almost by design.

"It's hard to believe any government operation could just slip into this sort of disrepair," he said.

The city's general service division has been the subject of investigation for a range of problems, including allegations of fraud that involved a tire repair contractor. Recently, it also came to light that 90 police vehicles — a purchase of almost $2 million — delivered in the spring had carpet floors instead of the necessary rubber mats.

"There has not been sufficient attention devoted to fleet operations and the control of fleet assets has been totally ineffective," the report says. "Performance measures are meaningless at best and nonexistent at worst."

The report recommends that the city revamp purchasing specifications so that all vendors have a local presence, allow divisions to outsource vehicle repair work to reduce a current backlog, and begin restructuring management and administrative functions. The mayor said general services employees will also receive additional training.

"Many of the employees do not know what they're supposed to be doing," he said.

The mayor noted that the city of Memphis lacks a comprehensive performance evaluation system, and has for some time.

"For the most part, there are no performance appraisals in the city of Memphis," Wharton said. "That's why it's hard to fire people around here."

However, four senior employees have already left the division; an investigation is pending for one more.

The administration also plans to implement a whistle-blower system for employees across city government to anonymously report abuses such as those that have occurred in general services.

"We're looking everywhere," Wharton said. "People know I won't retaliate against them if they see something wrong. ... That's what I want to engender. That's why I want to ramp up this whistle-blower system."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The First 100 Days

Posted By on Wed, Aug 11, 2010 at 2:05 PM

It might still be summer for many of us, but class was definitely in session this morning.

With LeMoyne-Owen College president Johnnie Watson and U of M basketball coach Josh Pastner in attendance, Leadership Memphis kicked off its 100 Things in 100 Days initiative today at Christian Brothers University.

Part of the Memphis Talent Dividend's College Attainment Initiative, 100 Things aims to have 100 commitments from organizations and individuals of quick things they can help more people in the region graduate from college.

The talent dividend's overall goal is to increase college attainment by just 1 percent in Shelby County. According to research by Joe Cortright, that could mean an economic impact of $1 billion locally.

Local institutions are also eying the more immediate impact.

Watson noted that all the area college presidents are involved in the initiative.

"I'm committed because I'm selfish," he said. "If we can increase enrollment by 10 students, that means $100,000 for LeMoyne-Owen."

To give participants an idea of what 100 Things could mean, scholarship programs and corporate tuition reimbursement programs flashed on the screen behind co-chairs Tomeka Hart and Kathy Buckman Gibson.

But a more personal idea came from Owen Phillips, a professor at UT who teaches at the Med. Her idea for a "Tiger Parent" program, which would pair students from the University of Memphis' Fresh mentoring program with a local family.

The idea was spawned after she saw a NYT article that talked about how hard colleges work to recruit freshman, but don't do as much to recruit — or retain — sophomores.

"Whey they really need is a Tiger family, a Memphis family," Phillips said. "We're looking for professionals, empty nesters, maybe just people with a little energy. Once a month you touch base with the student and their peer mentor."

Another thing is a college fair being held this Friday, August 13th, at the main library from noon to 5 p.m. So far, more than 20 college and universities are scheduled to attend.

In fact, the talent dividend has already garnered more than 60 commitments for "things," but is looking for at least 40 more. For more info, visit Leadership Memphis' new talent dividend website.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Flight Plan

Posted By on Tue, Aug 10, 2010 at 2:37 PM

With Pinnacle board members meeting tonight and the next two days, mayor A C Wharton presented millions in incentives to the City Council's executive committee today to persuade the airline to stay in Memphis.

"There is nobody on this body who does not believe that we're not committed to keeping Pinnacle here in Memphis," said City Council chair Harold Collins. "You go to that meeting today at 5:15 and you assure them they have our support, whatever they need. ... We will work with them. That's our goal."

News recently came out that Mississippi was wooing Pinnacle, and members of the Center City Commission and the city administration began working to both keep the company in Memphis and lure them to downtown's One Commerce Square.

Though supportive, council members had some qualms. With $15 million of the $18 million in incentives coming from federal stimulus funds, councilman Jim Strickland asked for a complete list of where stimulus funds have been spent. The other $3 million would come from a city economic development fund.

Wharton said that though this came up at the last minute, he plans to look at what the city's competitors are doing and bring a proposal to the council during the next budget cycle.

"I do think we should put money in the bank, so we're not scrounging around when these opportunities arise," said Barbara Swearengen Ware.

Council Discusses Dog Attack

Posted By on Tue, Aug 10, 2010 at 1:03 PM

Today, members of the council discussed a fatal pit bull attack near the Medical Center in mid-July. Two pit bulls attacked an elderly man and his daughter, then went after emergency personnel called to the scene. The woman who released the dogs was later charged with reckless homicide.

Though the police department cannot comment on a pending investigation, a representative from the police department said that officers assist animal-shelter employees with capturing stray dogs, if need be.

The department also recently revised its policy to include sending a K-9 unit to help because "a lot of our officers are not familiar with dogs," said deputy director Toney Armstrong.

Memphis City Council person Barbara Swearengen Ware said she had grave concerns about the incident. Regular readers to this blog probably know that Ware isn't much of an animal lover. But maybe she likes them more than we think.

"I hope an all-out alert has gone out to dog owners that they need to do something," she said. "If you love them, put them in your bosom and keep them away from other people."

Monday, August 9, 2010

Skatepark To Open Fall 2011 At Tobey Park

Posted By on Mon, Aug 9, 2010 at 10:48 AM

After years of wrangling over a location, the city announced today it would build its first skatepark at Tobey Park, near Flicker Street and Avery Avenue in Midtown.

“We are very pleased to finally let our local skateboard community know that this project is moving forward,” Memphis mayor A C Wharton said in a statement. “This is one more terrific quality of life investment in the heart of our city that will provide a safe, healthy, active resource for hundreds of our city’s children."

Funding for the skatepark — $440,000 — was approved by the City Council a few years ago, but the project stalled as possible locations — Overton, Glenview, and Rodney Baber parks — were explored. Tobey, one of the first options on the table, has the added benefit of lights, which would mean the park could be open extended hours.

The design team, a partnership between nationally renowned Wormhoudt Incorporated and Askew Hargraves Harcourt & Associates, is expected to host a public meeting within the next 30 days.

South Memphis Farmers Market Already Expanding

Posted By on Mon, Aug 9, 2010 at 8:30 AM

The South Memphis Farmers Market, which opened in July at the corner of Mississippi Boulevard and South Parkway East, is already expanding.

Starting this Thursday, August 12th, the market will be open from noon to 6 p.m. "to better accommodate the large number of customers who have been attending the Market."

Currently, nine area farmers offer a wide range of vegetables, fruits, and herbs, as well as jams and jellies.

For more information, check out the market on the White House's faith-based initiatives blog or call (901) 946-9675.

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