Leaving

Ramirez resigns as academics chief for Shelby County Schools

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier
Heidi Ramirez visits a class in 2014 at Southwind High School in Memphis soon after she was named the district's chief academic officer. Ramirez announced her resignation from Shelby County Schools on Tuesday.

Heidi Ramirez has resigned as chief of academics for Shelby County Schools, less than 2½  years after coming to Memphis to help turn around the fledgling district following a massive restructuring of the city’s education landscape.

In a letter emailed Tuesday morning to district principals and instructional leaders, Ramirez said she was leaving “to be closer to loved ones and take on new challenges.”

“I am so proud of the great work we have been able to accomplish together,” she wrote. “Together, we have accelerated implementation of both supports for struggling learners and good first teaching — especially in literacy, while also improving the overall climate for learning for both students and staff.”

Shelby County Schools confirmed Tuesday that her resignation is effective March 31, and Ramirez wrote that she would “ensure a successful transition process.”

Her resignation comes a little over a month after a restructuring of district leadership that included the promotion of Innovation Zone leader Sharon Griffin to chief of schools. Ramirez, who was hired as chief academic officer, became chief of academics. Meanwhile, Griffin took on some of the responsibilities previously shouldered by Ramirez and Brad Leon, now chief of strategy and performance management. All three serve on Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s cabinet.

Ramirez came to Memphis from Milwaukee Public Schools. She previously was associate dean for the College of Education and director for Urban Education Collaborative at Temple University, and at one time served on Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission.

When she arrived in Memphis in 2014, she was tasked with helping to increase the number of students reading on grade level, as well as the district’s graduation rate.

Those efforts may be starting to pay off.

She spearheaded a comprehensive literacy plan that pushed to improve reading skills across the curriculum. Last year, the district earned high marks for literacy growth for high school students who took the state’s TNReady test. However, overall growth scores were down, and the district is still far from its Destination 2025 goal of boosting third-grade reading proficiency to 90 percent by 2025.

Graduation rates have seen a slight bump, too. Some 78.7 percent of seniors received their diplomas in 2016, up from 75 percent the previous school year.

“I’m most proud of the work (we) have done to raise and reinforce expectations for our students,” she wrote, “and the continued evidence … that all of our children can achieve to high standards of career and college readiness…”

In her letter, Ramirez trumpets that student attendance is up and suspensions are down. She cites improvements in kindergarten readiness and student access to complex tests, and also notes that the growth in graduation rates extends to the district’s large population of black students, those with disabilities, and English language learners.

In a statement, Hopson praised Ramirez, especially for her work on Destination 2025, the district’s strategic plan.

“(Her) vision has helped enhance planning and coordination across all of our academic departments and stakeholders — from teachers and coaches to school and district leaders,” he said.

Hopson told Chalkbeat that the district will look to tweak the job description in collaboration with Griffin before Ramirez leaves. “With all the work she’s done, I think we’re going to take it to the next level,” he said.

With approximately 105,000 students, Shelby County Schools is Tennessee’s largest school district, the result of a 2013 merger of Memphis City Schools and legacy Shelby County Schools, followed by the exit a year later of six suburban municipalities that started their own school system.

Correction, February 21, 2017: This article has been updated to include the correct percentages of graduation rates for Shelby County Schools. A previous version listed the state percentages instead of the district’s.

More money

Aurora school board campaigns pulling in money from big names

Aurora's school board candidates at a candidate forum hosted by RISE Colorado. (Photo by Yesenia Robles)

New big names are stepping in to contribute to Aurora’s school board races this year, including some longtime contributors to some Denver school board candidates.

Daniel Ritchie, a Denver philanthropist, and Patrick Hamill, the founder and CEO of Oakwood Homes, contributed to some Aurora candidates this year, according to new campaign finance reports that were due Tuesday. State records show they had not in the past. Ritchie in 2012 did support an Aurora committee to pass a tax measure for the school district.

The contributions are further evidence of Aurora’s growing profile among education reform advocates. Over the last three years, the district’s school improvement work has attracted the attention of groups and think tanks that sense opportunity in a traditionally overlooked district with a large population of underserved students. A couple of Denver’s popular college-prep charter school operators, DSST and Rocky Mountain Prep, have put down roots in Aurora.

The new campaign finance reports show that eight school board candidates vying for one of four seats on the Aurora school board raised almost $50,000 so far. One candidate, incumbent Barbara Yamrick, had not filed a report as of Wednesday afternoon.

Because four of the school board’s seven seats are up for election, and only one incumbent is attempting re-election, November’s winners could align as a majority and point the district in a new direction.

The district’s profile has risen among education watchers as it attempts reforms of some of the lowest performing schools in the state. Its strategies include an innovation zone where five schools have new autonomy from district, union and state rules, and through an evolving new process for opening charter schools.

The candidates who have raised the most amount of money are Miguel In Suk Lovato, who reported $14,181 in donations, and Gail Pough, who reported $10,181.32.

How much did candidates raise, spend?

  • Gail Pough, $10,181.32; 6,533.24
  • Lea Steed, $1,355.00; 878.24
  • Kyla Armstrong Romero, $6,365.55; 3,019.81
  • Kevin Cox, $2,554.00; $2,291.93
  • Miguel Lovato, $14,181.00; $9,336.96
  • Jane Barber, $150.00; $988.10
  • Debbie Gerkin, $7,755.43; $2,350.24
  • Marques Ivey, $4,965.30; $2,791.84/li>
  • Barbara Yamrick, did not file

Both received donations from Ritchie, Hamill and Democrats for Education Reform. Lovato also reported donations from Linda Childears, the president and CEO of the Daniels Fund, and other Daniels Fund employees. Lovato works there as a senior grants program officer. Pough also reported donations from Denver school board candidate Jennifer Bacon, and Democratic state Rep. Rhonda Fields.

Candidate Lea Steed and Debbie Gerkin also received donations from Democrats for Education Reform.

The organization had contributed to Aurora candidates in the past, but on a smaller scale.

Union interests also have been active. Four candidates, Gerkin, Kyla Armstrong-Romero, Kevin Cox and Marques Ivey, are organized as a slate endorsed by Aurora’s teacher’s union. The Public Education Committee, which is a union funded committee, donated $1,125 directly to candidate campaigns. The same committee also reported in-kind donations, meaning non-monetary, of almost $3,000 to three of the slate members, for polling.

The candidates also reported their expenditures, which mostly consisted of consultant fees, advertising materials or yard signs and rental space or food for volunteers.
Reports filed earlier in the week from independent expenditure committees show Democrats for Education Reform and union groups have also spent money this year to advocate for some Aurora school board candidates on their own. Independent expenditure committees are not allowed to donate directly to candidates, but can campaign on their own for or against candidates. Their reports were due earlier this week.

Movers & shakers

Haslam names three West Tennesseans to State Board of Education    

PHOTO: TDOE
Members of the Tennessee State Board of Education listen to a July presentation about TNReady scores by Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.

A Memphis real estate executive, a Cordova lawyer and a Decatur County high school student are the newest members of Tennessee’s State Board of Education.

Gov. Bill Haslam announced appointments this week to dozens of state boards and commissions, including the 11-member education panel, which sets policy for K-12 schools in Tennessee.

The new members are:

  • Darrell Cobbins

    Darrell Cobbins is a Memphis native and third-generation real estate professional who attended Catholic, public and private schools. He has degrees from Rhodes College and the University of Memphis and worked for the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce. He is president of Universal Commercial Real Estate, which he founded in 2007. Representing the ninth congressional district, he replaces William Troutt, who retired this year as president of Rhodes College and is moving out of state.

  • Lang Wiseman is an attorney in Cordova who graduated from Bolton High School in Arlington. He attended the University of Tennessee on a basketball scholarship and finished as the 24th leading scorer in the school’s history. Wiseman went on to graduate from Harvard Law School and is a partner at Wiseman Bray Attorneys. Representing the eighth congressional district, he replaces Cato Johnson, who accepted a position on the University of Memphis Board of Trustees.

  • Haden Bawcum, of Bath Springs, is the board’s student member, a position that changes annually. He is a senior at Riverside High School in Decatur County.

The appointments became effective in July and are expected to be confirmed by state lawmakers early next year. Board members are not paid.

B. Fielding Rolston is chairman of the board. A retired executive with Eastman Chemical Co. in Kingsport, he was first appointed in 1996.

You can find answers to the board’s frequently asked questions here.