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Varied interests, emotions at education town hall

The 2nd annual countywide town hall meeting for teachers, parents, students and community stakeholders moved right along.

As news circulated that Aug. 2 had been designated for county referendum elections on whether to create separate and independent schools systems in the suburban cities surrounding Memphis, the 2nd annual countywide town hall meeting for teachers, parents, students and community stakeholders moved right along.

Wearing a green AFSCME T-shirt, Emma Lee Payne approached a microphone set up at the well-attended session at The New Olivet Baptist Church at 3084 Southern Ave. She identified herself as a 27-year-school employee, a head cook that had worked at many schools.

 MEA President Keith Williams speaks up for local hiring. (Photo by Conor Fox)

“I’m not here for myself, but to remind you of something. A school is maintained by hard working people who keep it running and clean,” said Payne. “What about their lives, careers and their families? The county privatized their schools years ago and I suggest you study them well before you repeat that mistake.”

And so it went, with Shelby County School board member the Rev. Dr. Kenneth T. Whalum Jr. hosting the meeting crafted to “receive input so that ‘next steps’ can be taken to reclaim our schools for every child in Shelby County.” Nearly two-dozen people spoke during the approximately two-hour session.

Memphis Education Association President Keith Williams said that while he can see the pride in winning the Gates Foundation grant, the school board should also be careful when adhering to its guidelines.

“We should be very guarded about extending contracts beyond this area,” said Williams. “One of the things that we must be careful of is that we are not hiring or recruiting our teachers from the local area. We are sending a message that our own people are not good enough and that is wrong.”

Stephanie Fitzgerald, a teacher for 38 years, said more is being taught than intended.

“When you try to set people against each other, try to setup a system that is said to be better than another, you are teaching them something that is not good,” said Fitzgerald.

“I fail to understand how it is good economic development to take jobs away from people in your own community and then hire consultants from outside the community.”

Gary Greer turned the listening session toward corporal punishment, saying the new merged school district must somehow find a way to reverse corporal punishment, especially in the emerging elementary years.

“It’s when the children learn right and wrong and we are not teaching them that there is consequences to bad behavior,” Greer said.

Whalum, who also is the pastor of The New Olivet Baptist Church, guided the speakers toward keeping their responses centered upon finding solutions that could be put into active mode for board consideration. School board members Dr. Freda Williams and Theresa Jones also were present.


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