Friday, April 24, 2009

Schools: Look Us Over, Don't Overlook Us.

By By Stephanie Fitzgerald, Special to Viewpoint, The Memphis Commercial Appeal

Friday, April 24, 2009

Many of us who work for Memphis City Schools are tired of hearing about the "failed Memphis City Schools" or "poor-performing schools."

MCS employees are not being treated fairly when comparisons are made with the Shelby County Schools. As most people know, the best indicator of a child's success is parental income. As a general rule, the higher the income, the more likely the child will succeed. Memphis is a city impacted by poverty.

More than 82 percent of our students are on free or reduced-price lunches, compared with about 42 percent of the students in Shelby County Schools. MCS teachers do not use this as an excuse; rather, they take it as a challenge.

How many of those who paint Memphis City Schools with a decidedly negative brush have actually been inside a city school to see firsthand what is going on there? We all realize that negative news gets the media coverage, not everyday good practice. Don't form your opinion of us by just taking negative media reports for granted -- go see for yourself.

I'm not talking about visiting the schools to attend a program or just walking through without stopping to observe. Take the time to visit for at least a whole class period on any regular day. I believe that very few of those who criticize have taken the time to be reliable witnesses.

If you do visit our City Schools, you will see teachers who enter their classrooms every day to challenge their students. Most teach with experience and enthusiasm. You will observe students who are engaged with learning and thrilled with the opportunity to acquire knowledge and learn new skills.

What other entity takes all comers? If you were to take a package to FedEx, UPS or the post office and it was not properly wrapped, had insufficient postage, an incomplete address or no return address, they would refuse to take it. Yet we take students every day who are not properly clothed, have worn-out shoes and are not adequately fed. Some cannot give you their address because they move around so much. Others have nowhere to call home. Memphis City Schools is currently educating about 1,700 students who are homeless.

We have many students who cannot afford any extras, but they are welcome at our public schools. In fact, they are wonderful children, just waiting to be discovered.

We are always grateful when caring citizens offer to spend their time and/or hard-earned money on our students. They often report back to their communities about the concerned teachers they meet, how little many of the students really have, and how much the students appreciate the time, interest and kindness of others.

As president of the Memphis Education Association, I get the chance to visit schools all the time. I see hardworking teachers and active, engaged students. Like any urban school district, we have problems. And although we know that money doesn't solve all problems, money that is spent on smaller classes for urban youths, on extra support and tutoring, or on classroom materials and technology is money that will pay dividends in the future for the entire county. Investing in our children will return the greatest dividend of all. It will improve the quality of life for all of us.

I believe it is in the best interest of all who live in Shelby County to support, nourish and pay for all of our students.

Many of the students served by Memphis City Schools do have extra needs -- whether those needs are financial, residential, emotional or academic. We are perplexed as to why some members of the Memphis City Council voted to cut the schools' funding last year. Previously, they had been supportive of public education, but now they seem more interested in fighting, rather than following a Chancery Court judge's decision in Memphis City Schools' lawsuit seeking full funding from the city of Memphis. Supt. Kriner Cash has pointed out that without the funds from the City Council, the district may be forced to make another reduction of at least 1,000 employees, and this time many teachers, education support professionals and programs important for our students could be included in the cutbacks.

In addition, there are citizens who write or e-mail The Commercial Appeal with unfair, uninformed criticisms of MCS -- either its schools, its employees or both.

To those who have never been inside a city school, I invite you to visit one. You will have a perfect opportunity during the next districtwide Student Exhibition on Tuesday.

I challenge you to visit any Memphis city school, but particularly one of those schools that our media and public refer to as a "failing school." Just call and volunteer to be a judge in the exhibition, or ask to be an observer. I guarantee that you will be surprised and impressed with the enthusiasm of the staff, the work of the students, the new friends you will make, and especially how much you will enjoy the experience.

Stephanie Fitzgerald is president of the Memphis Education Association. She is on leave from Melrose High School, where she taught biology. She has worked as a teacher for Memphis City Schools for 35 years.

© 2009 Scripps Newspaper Group — Online

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