City Reporter 

City Reporter

h3>Turnover at the Top

City school system loses many top administrators.

By Mary Cashiola

At the beginning of each school year, the Memphis City Schools administration holds a media briefing to introduce reporters to the district's top staff.

After being welcomed by communications executive director Janice Crawford and hearing a presentation by communications manager Dolores Bell, journalists last year were introduced to Superintendent Johnnie B. Watson; associate superintendents Bob Archer, Marieta Harris, and Roland McElrath; interim personnel services director Dr. Fred Johnson; optional schools executive director Linda Sklar; security director John Britt; and student information director Victor Carr.

Of that group, only Archer, Harris, Sklar, and Carr have not left or have not announced their intention to leave the school system.

Over the past two years, more than 10 of the district's top leaders have departed in a round of high-profile resignings, retirings, and firings. The latest to announce her departure is communications executive director Crawford, who leaves her post May 2nd to take a job with the Ball Foundation in Chicago.

"I'm leaving because I got a really interesting offer," Crawford said. "It was a really hard decision to leave because I love what I do."

In February, McElrath resigned, and about a month before that Watson announced he would retire in December 2003. Last year, personnel services executive director Ricks Mason resigned and was replaced in the interim by Dr. Fred Johnson. Internal audits director Waldon Gooch and student information director David Sojourner also retired at the end of the 2001-2002 school year.

School board commissioner Lee Brown wondered about the percentage of administrative turnover at other entities of similar size. "It's so stressful a job, and having to answer to the public for everything you do makes it even more stressful," said Brown, "so I can understand that."

With the exception of its superintendent, the county school district hasn't seen much turnover in its upper-level positions in the past few years.

Dr. Inetta Rogers, MCS executive director of human resources, said the wave of departures is normal in any organization of the district's size.

"All of those are individual circumstances that just happened at this season. It's not a collective problem," she said. "This offers us a good challenge to search for people to meet the needs of the school district's mission." Rogers said it could take anywhere from three to six months to find someone to fill an upper-management-level position in the district, but that process has not been finalized for either McElrath's or Crawford's former positions.

"As of today, I have not received personnel requisitions for either of the two positions that would begin a recruitment or a search for that position," says Rogers.

With many of the staffers leaving after years of service, Rogers -- who replaced Johnson earlier this year -- said the district may lose a level of experience, but it's surmountable. "Coming here, there's definitely a learning curve in transitioning from the private to the public sector, but it wasn't as great as I thought it was going to be," she says.

Bomb Scare

Hoax shuts down Rhodes party.

By Bianca Phillips

Rhodes' annual party, Rites of Spring, was shut down for two hours on Saturday night after campus security officers received a bomb threat called in from a campus emergency phone.

Security personnel later determined it was a hoax. The call came in at 9:08 p.m., and the caller, who is still unidentified, said, "Rhodes is gonna blow." Campus security later discovered the call was made from the emergency telephone located in the Bryan Campus Life Center, where the event was being held that evening. The phones are programmed to automatically dial the campus security office.

"We assembled all the security officers backstage along with the Rhodes Activities Board, the administrators of the events," said Ralph Hatley, the campus security director. "[We] made an announcement over the microphone for everybody to evacuate. Nobody seemed agitated."

As the students left the center, campus security officers swept the building. When the Memphis police arrived, a bomb-search dog double-checked the center. Nothing was found, and the students were allowed back into the building.

The annual Rites of Spring party is a three-day event that includes musical acts and various activities. The call came in just as the band Midnight 30 was ending its performance. The band scheduled to go on after them, however, was canceled. The final show of the evening, originally scheduled to go on at 11 p.m., started around 11:30 p.m.

"I've been here 12 years, and this is the first time it's happened," said Hatley. "We have people pull fire alarms and things like that, but this is the first time we've had a bomb threat. In this day and time, with the Code Orange alerts nationwide, it does have a different impact than it would have had before."

Hanging On

Children's Dental Clinic extends closing date.

The Children's Dental Clinic has extended its closing deadline to April 15th in hopes that TennCare and its dental administrator, Doral Dental, will change their minds about the clinic's TennCare verification.

The clinic at 4691 Knight Arnold was scheduled to close last Friday, after Doral decided to suspend credentialing of any more urban-area dentists.

"We're seeing kids free," said Dr. Freida Grimes-Moore, lead dentist at the Knight Arnold location. "My staff is still going at it full force. Even knowing that we may be closed down, not one of them has not shown up to work. In the end, it's the children who are paying the biggest price."

Michael Pflughoeft of Doral and TennCare representatives said the decision to extend the deadline was strictly that of the clinic's owners and not a result of a change or reevaluation regarding the TennCare dental network. Administrators still contend that there are enough credentialed dentists in the network to adequately care for urban TennCare patients. There are 82 network dentists in Shelby County, with 11 of them within a five-mile radius of the clinic.

In a survey conducted last week by Shelby County delegation representatives, 13 dentists in the same zip code as the clinic (38115) and a neighboring zip code (38118) gave mixed responses about accepting children on TennCare. When asked when two new patients, ages 3 and 5, could be seen, three were able to schedule appointments for the next week and two for the end of April. However, two dentists were no longer accepting new TennCare patients and two offices listed July as their earliest appointment dates. Of the remaining four dentists, three see TennCare patients only on Fridays, and the last office offered only voice mail for communication.

The credentialing process has not been suspended in rural areas, where administrators say the need for credentialed dentists is greatest.

In four weeks, the Children's Clinic has seen more than 900 patients.

Dr. Grimes-Moore met in Nashville last week with members of the Shelby County delegation, who are expected to present the clinic's case to the TennCare deputy commissioner Manny Martins and Governor Phil Bredesen.

Forba, the parent company of the clinic, was scheduled to open a second location at Cleveland and Poplar. That clinic has not yet opened.

Multiple Choice

Memphis City Schools wants to test all students every six weeks.

By Mary Cashiola

Calling it a logical "next step" to the super-intendent's districtwide curriculum, Memphis City Schools (MCS) administrators recently issued a bid request for a large test-item bank.

"Our goal at this point is to develop a six-week assessment aligned to the curriculum in every course," said Dr. Dee Weedon, interim coordinator of the MCS office of standards, curriculum, and assessment. "For instance, each child in grade-nine English will take the test and it will give us an idea of how students are doing across the grade each six weeks."

Board commissioners and administrative staff have long lamented the lag-time between students taking standardized tests and the state's release of those scores, saying there was no time for interventions if a student did poorly.

"The TCAP scores were out last year before school was out [for the summer], but the previous couple of years it was summer before we got the scores," said Weedon. "Instead of waiting until April and administering the TCAP and holding our breath to see how our students are doing, we'll know how they're doing each six weeks."

During the 2001-2002 school year, the district's standardized curriculum was implemented for core academic courses. This year has seen a standardized curriculum in subjects such as art and theater. Once the districtwide assessment system is in place -- probably no sooner than January 2004 -- teachers will use the district's six-week assessment tests but will still create all their other tests.

"This gives us an opportunity to analyze information across the district to see what kind of staff development our teachers need," said Weedon. "Certainly it will give us a clearer picture of the district. If a teacher is not implementing the curriculum, it's going to be pretty evident."

The information might also be used in a larger data bank, which will combine all the district's data. Linda Mainord, director of information technology, says that would be helpful in letting teachers, principals, and district administrators look at any type of data they want from students, whether they are males, females, black, white, or English-language learners.

"If you're a teacher, let's say you want to know how each child is stacking up in the classroom -- maybe not just on one test but on all the tests," Mainord said. "You can look at all the scores on one question. Maybe you have 20 students in your class. If they all get that one question wrong, well, something's wrong. Even if 50 percent missed it, you know what you need to go back and spend more time on."

But Dr. Marieta Harris, the district's associate superintendent of curriculum, instruction, and school effectiveness, is quick to say that's a long way off. For starters, the district's request includes a three-year phase-in period. Then the state came out with a similar proposal after MCS had published its own. The district decided to "wait and see on the state rather than withdrawing ours," said Harris. The state has said it will share its test bank with the district, and Harris said there's no need to spend money on a local system if the state will do it for them.

"It's just what needs to be done," said Harris.

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