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Q&A: Bernadeia Johnson

Deputy Superintendent, Memphis City Schools



Last week, for the first time since the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) standards were instituted, Memphis City Schools got some really good news: Because of overall progress, the state declared the district in "good standing."

Each school's performance is gauged by Tennessee's Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) reports, which measure attendance rates, graduation rates, and math and English scores for all students in grades 3 to 8.

The latest AYP results showed that 27 city schools had improved enough to be removed from the NCLB "High Priority" list while six schools were added to the list, bringing this year's total to 36, versus last year's 57. The number of "Target" schools (a warning category) increased from 24 to 35, but the number of schools in "Good Standing" increased from 103 to 114.

The Flyer got a lesson from Memphis City Schools deputy superintendent Bernadeia Johnson on how schools are making the grade. -- by Shea O'Rourke

Flyer: What has been most influential in reducing the "high priority" list?

Johnson: It's really about being clear and consistent so that we have a common message. We've increased conversations among principals, and teachers at different schools are sharing strategies. We've worked hard with teachers and staff this year to really look at our English and math curricula. We're trying to make sure that we also document those strategies that are successful.

What happens to the schools taken off the list?

If a school makes gains one year and comes off the list, we want to make sure we don't forget about that school but continue monitoring it and offering our support. One of our sayings is that good schools can always get better.

This year, the district surpassed the state's required attendance rate. What do you think made the difference?

Number one is the relationship that the staff builds with students and parents. The second thing is parents' understanding the impact and importance of having kids in school every day. We also have attendance teachers and counselors in schools. We reward students for coming to school by showing them how it impacts their achievement and also by giving them creative incentives like a principal shaving her head at the end of the year.

How is the school system going to celebrate?

Every time we find an opportunity, we thank people for everything they've done. I know that on Monday night [at a school board meeting] Superintendent [Carol] Johnson will recognize everyone who has played a role. We haven't done anything big yet, but many schools are finding different ways of acknowledging their success, like faculty meetings with cake and punch.

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