Friday, November 5, 2010

Family Time

Posted By on Fri, Nov 5, 2010 at 12:00 PM

Livable Memphis takes a cradle to grave view at its 4th Annual Summit for Neighborhood Leaders tomorrow morning at Bridges.

"Livability: It's a Family Thing - Building Cities for Children, the Elderly and Everyone in Between" will feature keynote speaker Sadhu Johnston, the deputy city manager of Vancouver. There will also be break-out sessions on green parenting, walkability and increased property values, preservation beyond old buildings, blight, and navigating bikes on the road.

And to make things really family oriented, kids

It's free but registration is required.

For more info, click here.

School Enrollment Blues

Posted By on Fri, Nov 5, 2010 at 9:00 AM

A few weeks ago, I tried to get some high school enrollment and capacity data from Memphis City Schools.

I didn't get it by deadline, and there were people out there who said I've never get it.

Well, I finally got it. And it showed what you might expect.

Many of the schools in the southwest quadrant of the city — Westwood, Mitchell, Carver, BTW — are about 2/3rds full.

Northside, which is between Manassas and Douglass, the district's more recently built core-city high schools, fares worst with a 44 percent utilization rate.

To see how they all compare, I put together this handy-dandy chart.

The size of the box is the size of the school. White Station, for example, has a capacity of 1,733. But with 2,203 students, its utilization rate is 127 percent, which is denoted by color.

The bluer a school is, the more under-capacity it is (percentage wise).

The redder a school is, the more over-capacity it is.

The purples are somewhere in the middle. For a baseline, Sheffield has an almost 97 percent utilization rate while Kirby has a 108 percent utilization rate.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Race For Grace with Lightning Bolts, Hooper Troopers

Posted By on Thu, Nov 4, 2010 at 9:00 AM

The Church Health Center's Race for Grace 5K is this Saturday at Shady Grove Presbyterian Church, but not all the participants will be running.

Well, they won't *only* be running.

The Hooper Troopers will be hooping while they do the race. Though I can't say exactly how they'll do this, having seen them hoop all sorts of ways for our summer fashion issue, I have no doubt it will be amazing. This video gives a hint:

CHC staff encourage you to form a team of people with your colleagues or church members, or you can join Genevieve and the Lightning Bolts just by listing the team name when you sign up.

To register or get more information, go here.

And here's an inspirational video from another participant:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Bill and Melinda Gates Visit MCS

Posted By on Wed, Nov 3, 2010 at 3:45 PM

A year after Memphis City Schools (MCS) won $90 million from the Gates Foundation, co-chairs Bill and Melinda Gates were in Memphis today to see, in part, how all the "pieces line up."

"To hear how the community is coming together is quite something," Melinda Gates said.

Memphis won the large, multi-year grant by showing a commitment to bold new initiatives, as well as a comprehensive partnership with non-profits, national education entities such as The New Teacher Project, other foundations, and teachers themselves.

In the past 10 years, the Gates Foundation has focused its domestic efforts on education, and most recently, teacher effectiveness.

"I was surprised when we got into education how little was known about effective teaching," Bill Gates said. "Years of experience, various degrees — it doesn't explain the differences (between teachers)."

MCS is currently working under its teacher effectiveness initiative or T.E.I. Learn more about that and what it means for Memphis, in this recent Flyer cover story.

In addition to initiatives directly impacting student achievement, MCS is participating in a Gates study on what makes an effective teacher. As part of that, volunteer educators have had their classrooms filmed.

"There are lots of great teachers out there," Bill Gates said. "What we haven't done is identify what effective teachers are doing and spreading that to others."

Blight Fall

Posted By on Wed, Nov 3, 2010 at 8:30 AM

In this week's print edition, out this morning (hint, hint), Bianca Phillips, Hannah Sayle, and I take on the collateral damage of the foreclosure crisis — Memphis neighborhoods — and what's being done to combat blight and deterioration.

Of course, not all of Memphis' blighted properties are foreclosures. Many are investment properties long ignored by their owners and in need of some serious upkeep.

What I find the most alarming is the scale of Memphis' blight. In discussing this story with friends and colleagues, most people I talked to said something like, I have a house like that on my block. Or around the corner. Or in my neighborhood.

The story focuses on several people's attempts to fight blight: Attorney Steve Barlow's efforts to sue owners of dilapidated property under the Tennessee Neighborhood Preservation Act; Brad Watkins' "Blightwatch" videos on YouTube and his confrontation of Wells Fargo's over back taxes they owe to the city and the county; and Tommy Wilson and his bomb the blight art project.

One of the things people have been very interested in — especially given how many of them have said they have blighted property near them — are the lawsuits.

I should note that you can't just sue your next door neighbor for having a junky house. But if the property is vacant or renter-occupied and doesn't meet code, then you could sue for the loss in value to your property or to force the property owners to fix whatever problem exists.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Case of the Missing MATA Board Members

Posted By on Mon, Nov 1, 2010 at 11:19 AM

Officially, MATA has a nine-member board.

But its most recent meeting, on October 25th, was the first time in four years — at least — that even seven commissioners were at the table.

Looking back at data from 2006 to October of this year, the board has never included more than seven commissioners in recent history.

MATA spokesperson Alison Burton says the board changed to from a seven-member board to a nine-member board by city ordinance in August 2000. But in her more than two decade tenure with the transit authority, she says she can't remember a time when it had more than seven board members. (In fact, she says she always writes that it's a seven-member board.)

Of course, it's had fewer than seven members much of the time.

In 2007, board member Dick Walker passed away after the second meeting of the year and was never replaced, leaving the number of commissioners at six.

Vicki Cloud then resigned in 2007.

Both Marion McClendon and Reo Pruitt were appointed in February 2008, but Pruitt resigned two months later. No one was appointed to take his place.

Ray Holt then resigned at the beginning of 2009, and with no one being appointed to take his place, either.

But Cliffie Pugh, whose term ended this September, hadn't attended a meeting since April 2009.

Call it the case of the missing MATA board members (or one of those complicated word problems you see on the math portions of state tests).

With Pugh's long absence and the resignation of Holt, the MATA board dwindled to only four effective members for much of 2009.

Maybe it's a result of "out of sight, out of mind." MATA's headquarters are on Watkins, north of Chelsea, and built on an old landfill. Maybe no one wants to be on the MATA board. But I can't help but wonder if this isn't more evidence of a general negligence coming from city government at the time.

After Memphis mayor A C Wharton was elected, he appointed former City Councilman John Vergos to the board. After interim Mayor Myron Lowery appointed former City Councilman John Vergos, mayor A C Wharton appointed The New Teacher Project staffer Sheila Redick and Memphis Regional Design Center head Chooch Pickard, and there are still two open spots.

MATA's board and staff are scheduled to have a retreat later this week.

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