So Long, Kriner Cash?

Like him or not, he'll be a strong contender in North Carolina.

Posted by John Branston on Wed, Apr 11, 2012 at 2:55 PM

So Kriner Cash is planning his exit strategy. Join the club, Dr. Cash. Let those who have not considered charter schools, private schools, optional schools, Mississippi schools, or suburban municipal schools for their own children cast the first stone.

Cash is one of three finalists interviewing this week for the superintendent's job in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina. He survived the cut in an initial field of 89 applicants and will be a strong contender as the only minority candidate and the only candidate with experience in a system with more than 100,000 students. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has approximately 140,000 students and is majority-minority.

Cash, remember, was opposed to the surrender of the Memphis City Schools charter, and his side lost by a single vote on the board of education. Unification through hostile surrender was not his baby. If he gets the Carolina job, he could plausibly argue that he is not leaving MCS so much as MCS left him.

Superintendents of big school systems are like high-profile coaches in this respect: They are celebrated when hired, scorned when they depart, and there is almost always someone ready to rehire them and wipe the slate clean.

Cash is in his fourth year on the job in Memphis. If he were in high school, he would be graduating. That's the same length of tenure as his predecessor, Carol Johnson, and a year longer than her predecessor, Johnnie B. Watson.

Superintendents are unlike coaches in this respect: They don't leave anything as clear-cut as a win-loss record.

So how do you determine whether someone has been a good superintendent? There are several ways.

Johnson got an offer from the Boston public schools — a smaller system but a higher-paying position than Memphis. Watson was well liked, but that was partly because he didn't close any schools, knowing from painful experience that closing schools is a recipe for ulcers and a career killer. His predecessor, Gerry House, was national Superintendent of the Year in 1999, an award sponsored by ServiceMaster, a company that had contracts with MCS. Her predecessor, Willie Herenton, had a schools offer from Atlanta and serious interest from New York City.

A reporter in Charlotte asked me this week if Cash has done a good job. I dodged the question and said he would present a hell of a resume. The Obama visit to Booker T. Washington High School. The Gates Foundation grant. The steadfast superintendent of a soon-to-be-dissolved system not of his making. The ability to say "you can't throw anything at me that I haven't seen in Memphis." No personal scandals; Cash apparently explained the resignation of his right-hand man, Irving Hamer, to the satisfaction of the search committee at a secret meeting of semifinalists at the Charlotte airport, post-Hamer.

Student performance measures are another matter. The state of Tennessee toughened up its standardized testing evaluations after Cash arrived in Memphis, so what was "proficient" in 2007 is no longer "proficient." Again, Cash and MCS could only react.

Graduation rates in MCS have supposedly improved while dropout rates have declined. This was the centerpiece of the Obama visit to BTW. But there are two problems with graduation stats. First, a graduate with a 15 or 16 on the ACT (a typical score at Memphis high schools) is not college ready. Second, Tennessee, unlike other states, doesn't report the number of students who graduate or are eligible to graduate from each high school year over year.

It's interesting that Cash is applying for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg job because four representatives from that system, including former Superintendent Pete Gorman, came to Memphis in December to meet with the Transition Planning Commission.

No matter which of the three finalists gets the Charlotte job, I think Gorman did them a favor by lowering expectations. He was pretty candid in his Memphis comments.

"Progress has been painfully slow, and at the rate we are moving in Charlotte it will still be 15 years before the achievement gap is closed," he said. He also said "you can't close schools well" and questioned whether the task is "physically possible."

Ann Doss Helms, a reporter covering education for The Charlotte Observer, told me Gorman was sort of "a rock star" superintendent in his early years. He didn't sound like a rock star when he came to Memphis. He sounded like a man who has learned from hard experience that there are few if any real rock stars in public education and that fame and popularity are fleeting.

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A majority of Memphis City Schools teachers have little or no confidence in Supt. Kriner Cash.

An even larger number have lukewarm faith or less that district managers work in teachers' best interests, according to a recent survey done for the commission planning the merger.

The findings are a world apart in Shelby County Schools, where 74 percent of teachers rate Supt. John Aitken highly and even more (83 percent) trust his management team to look out for them and keep them informed of changes affecting their jobs.

In Memphis, just 18 percent of teachers rate Cash better than average; 44 percent trust his team to protect teacher interests and 56 percent agree they are told of changes that affect their jobs.

The survey by Yacoubian Research of random district staff highlights a culture gap between the city and suburban work forces that in slightly more than a year will operate as one.

"When the two systems come together, there won't be as many negatives, I hope," said LaVerne Dickerson, a city school teacher who knows MCS teachers who prefer to tell others they teach in Shelby County to avoid scorn.

"In Memphis, there is always publicity about failing schools and that means the teachers are no good and all that," Dickerson said.

"Memphis teachers are always fighting that. Maybe that's the reason the answers came out the way they did."

A recurring theme was district leadership. More than 66 percent of MCS staff say the unified district will be weaker if existing superintendents are allowed to stay on a few years. In the county, 56 percent of teachers say the system would be better if current leaders are allowed to stay.

"In Shelby County, one thing we have is a superintendent and central office that supports their teachers," said Sammy Jobe, head of the county teachers association.

"It all reflects back on the superintendent and his staff," he said.

More than 40 percent of MCS teachers rate Aitken high, while slightly more than 2 percent of SCS employees say Cash deserves a high rating.

Six percent of Cash's administrators rated him an excellent leader; 24 percent said he was good; the rest ranked him average or less. Aitken received an excellent rating from 73 percent of his managers.

Staff of both districts overwhelmingly agree the urban area cannot create widespread economic opportunity without strong public education, but they showed significant gaps in the way they feel about their pay, on-the-job training and freedom to express themselves without fear of punishment.

Sixty-two percent of SCS teachers believe they are well-paid compared to 48 percent in the city; 68 percent in SCS say they are not afraid to express concerns compared to 52 percent in the city. Eighty-three percent of SCS teachers say they are praised for good work compared to 72 percent in MCS.

Only 4.5 percent of SCS teachers say MCS is excellent or good but 55 percent of MCS staff rate SCS as good or better.

Keith Williams, head of the teacher union in Memphis, says county teachers who work in schools in poorer parts of the county like Northaven or Southwind "will have very different opinions from someone who works in more affluent parts."

"The survey speaks to where you work in this community, the conditions, students, facilities and things you have to deal with,"

The survey, released Thursday by the Transition Planning Commission, was designed to tap staff perceptions of the merger. Respondents were contacted by e-mail; 1,225 participated from MCS and 989 participated from SCS.

"Any time you bring two organizations together, you are going to have some flashes of culture," said Billy Orgel, chairman of the unified school board.

"I am hoping the good work coming out of the TPC will help minimize many of these things. It will take a well-thought, thorough approach to merging cultures together."

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Posted by merlin on 04/14/2012 at 8:18 AM

Merlin, you are a very insightful person. You seem to genuinely care about the education of the children, all of them, in Shelby County. You seem a bit naive though about the differences in the two systems.

Surveys are good internally, however they are suspect in that they are biased against the person at the top depending on how it reflects of the person taking the survey.

In Memphis, the teachers, for a time, had high marks for Cash and his administration. Then, the state changed the parameters of the scores needed to be successful. Prior to that, MCS had been making progress, although incremental, to achieve the stated goals of the state. When the stae drastically upped the requirements, teachers came under more scrutiny and were put under more pressure to perform. Evaluation systems had to be changed. This meant that secure teachers were, all of a sudden put in peril of losing their jobs, thus the resentment begun.

The SCS, under the auspices of John Aitken were the cream of the crop in Shelby County. They only had to maintain. In that respect, nothing that was being done had to change. The status quo remained the same. But, this is misleading. If you measure the progress of the SCS for the last ten years, you will see virtually no progress. the system, albeit better performing than MCS, had become stagnant. The differences in scores between the two districts can mostly be attributed to the differences in socio-economic ways. Actually, when those differences are taken into context, the SCS has not shown that it is any better than the MCS. As a matter of fact, MCS scores were getting closer to the SCS yearly. I would be willing to bet that if you tookl the students from both systems and compared them on a socio- economic rung, the scores would almost be the same, hence, WSHS and John P. Freeman.

So, let us take this survey with a grain of salt.

Another thing, you and others seem to put too much hope on is the TPC. The TPC, regardless of how well intentioned they are, regardless of what ideas they come up with, are only advisory. They have no power to impliment anything. The real power lies with the unified school board. Here again, the unified school board is a lame duck board and they are reluctent to use the power that they have. Come November, there will be only 7 or perhaps 13 members on the SCS Board, all elected by the citizens of Shelby County. It is this board that will shape the destiny of the unified system. In the interim, I am hopeful, however, it is my feeling that very little will be accomplished.

From the depths of my heart, I appreciate your concern about our kids, all of them and would be willing to work with you in any capacity to help build a better school district.

Let us hope that all of this can be shaken out so thay the ones that believe as you can come together to form a better situation for all of the kids of Shelby County.

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 04/14/2012 at 3:03 PM
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