Apparently, Memphis has “momentum.” As the City of Memphis celebrates 200 years and moves into its third century, many are excited to reflect on its history and to praise the city’s accomplishments. While I recognize the progress of the past two centuries, I would be remiss to not point out that Memphis’ homicide rate was the third-highest among the country’s 50 largest cities last year, 39% of Memphis children live below the poverty line (the second-highest rate in the nation), and Memphis ranks poorest among major American metropolitan areas. I cannot celebrate “momentum” if youth in Memphis are barely surviving the dangerous rapids of poverty, systemic violence, and educational neglect while our city invests far less than 1% of its $700 million budget in youth and education.

Many believe that the solution to creating better opportunities for our youth can be found in attracting more businesses to deliver more jobs or getting the Grizzlies to donate a basketball court or cracking down on schools and parents to “do better”. While these things can make marginal improvements to the city, we must first build a sturdier foundation on which to improve. What good are jobs when the population is ill-prepared for the jobs of tomorrow that could deliver them from the atrocities of poverty? What use is a basketball court when parents are too afraid to send their child to use it? What more can teachers do when so many of our students leave our classrooms to endure the traumatic and violent experience of poverty on a daily basis?

As an educator, I know that we cannot continue to apply the same solutions hoping to solve the problems that our youth consistently face. To do so is quite literally the definition of insanity. Our solutions must be bold and innovative – qualities that the city has never in its 200 years attempted to embrace.

We need direct, strategic investments in areas that will positively impact the future success of our youth if we want to produce more successful schools, safer neighborhoods, and a thriving city.

All students, regardless of their academic, social, or behavior struggles, deserve direct investment in the neighborhoods, programs, and schools in which they are raised. To enable that, the city should create a dedicated fund that is specifically set aside to support Memphis youth with greater equity. Such a fund will ensure that the level of investment in youth will not waver with each election.

Currently, the only dedicated funding for youth from the City of Memphis is 0.3% of property taxes for Pre-K only. One penny of the current tax rate of $3.19 amounts to about $1.3 million. While this is worth a nod, imagine the impact if the city increased its investment tenfold. Only 3% of the revenue generated from property taxes could generate about $13 million each year to invest in youth!

We ought to take a cue from other cities where youth funds have been provided by budget allocations or appropriating a set-aside of property or sales taxes. In 1991, San Francisco voters decided to set aside 4% of property taxes for the nation’s first children’s fund. Voters overwhelmingly renewed their decision in 2000 and again in 2014, guaranteeing funding until 2039. In Baltimore, 80% of voters decided to set aside $12 million each year from property taxes to invest in youth.

In 2004, the Memphis Youth Guidance Commission was created to serve as an objective, nonpartisan youth research and advocacy body for city government, but it has been mostly dormant since the 2012 school merger. This apolitical body could be a starting point for conducting research to determine funding priorities and ensure accountability for a fund to benefit youth and K-12 education initiatives.

Those opposed to such initiatives, like many incumbent members of city government, may remind us that, since 2012, “Memphis is out of the education business.” Their reasons over the years have included maintenance of effort (a state mandate to continue funding at a certain level) and lack of accountability from the school district. For that reason, I must point out that a fund administered by a third party allows for an innovative way to pay for youth and education programs that does not trigger maintenance of effort, can maintain a high standard of accountability, and has the benefit of increasing equity in local funding. The district and other public education-related non-profits could apply for funding to support targeted, evidence-based programs focused on areas such as early literacy, high school success, and college and career preparation. None of these things are being adequately supported by state and local funding to Shelby County Schools. Furthermore, I would argue that education itself is largely underfunded based on the needs in our Memphis communities.

Just last year, city leaders decided to allocate roughly $260 million (nearly 40% of the entire municipal budget) for the Memphis Police Department. This amount increases yearly, yet Memphis is still considered unsafe. It is clear that a constant increase of funding to the police department will not, by itself, actually improve the city. If the City of Memphis can afford a quarter of a billion dollars for the MPD (including dollars spent spying on activists and citizens who challenge injustice, killing Black citizens in need of mental health services, and over-policing communities while paradoxically leaving them underprotected), then surely it can spare $13 million (a meager 5% of its current police budget) to invest its youngest residents and the future of Memphis.

As an educator and community advocate with Stand for Children, I know we cannot afford to sit idly by while our government negligently ignores its moral obligation to our children. The need is clear. Funding opportunities are plentiful. A body to monitor this fund already exists. All that is missing is a government and elected officials willing to prioritize youth.

If the current occupants of city hall are unwilling to do what is right by investing meaningfully in our youth, then we must do the hard work of replacing them. As Marian Wright Edelman once said, “If we don’t stand up for children, then we don’t stand for much.” Stand up for Memphis youth with me by organizing and voting in the city elections on October 3.

Two years ago, I started as a third-grade reading teacher in Shelby County Schools (SCS). I knew that third grade was the strongest predictor of long-term learning success, but I did not know the complexity behind the immense literacy gaps within our district.

Three out of four SCS third-graders are not reading on grade level. In 2018, only 27% of SCS third-graders were proficient on the reading state assessment. I’ve seen the impact of these statistics, as many of my students entered the year behind. 

Recently, SCS developed the “3rd Grade Commitment” to correspond to revisions of its policy for promotion and retention. Currently, second-graders are promoted if they earn above a D (70+). This new policy requires the district’s 8,700 second-graders to meet at least 8 of 12 points under a new success criteria. Students who do not meet the criteria must attend summer school, and, if still not successful over the summer, will have 45 days of the following year to catch up before having to repeat the second grade.

SCS states that the 3rd Grade Commitment will “hold district and school leaders, teachers, and all stakeholders accountable” for students’ success before third grade. With the plan for implementation in 2020, I am left wondering, what new measures will hold adults accountable? Also, if students are given new requirements to move from second grade to third grade, what new supports will they receive?

While focusing on literacy is crucial, it cannot be an isolated effort. To change results, the root causes for what left students behind in the first place must be simultaneously considered.

When I think about my students who needed literacy intervention, I know that support goes beyond academics. Two of my students lost family members to gun violence this year. I vividly remember when they came to class crying, as I helped them make cards that day because they couldn’t focus. They showed resilience but had anger management issues and emotional outbursts throughout the year. Consequently, they had multiple in- and out-of-school suspensions and were penalized for using the only coping mechanisms they had to deal with their trauma. 

Research shows that two-thirds of Memphis children who are treated at Le Bonheur have at least four Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), traumatic events that can range from neglect to poverty to the incarceration of a parent and exposure to violence, and one-third have food and housing insecurity.

If my students who were exposed to violence had fallen under this new policy, how would SCS provide new trauma-responsive supports to ensure that they are given every opportunity to succeed? 

Two other students at my intervention table often missed instruction because they were chronically absent. Some weeks, they would only come to school for one or two days. One of them always got picked up early, missing countless instructional hours. He spent the year working on sounding out words on a first-grade reading level (2-grade levels behind). Last year, 12% of SCS students were chronically absent, meaning that they missed 18+ days of school.

If my chronically absent students fell under this new policy, how would SCS establish new measures to communicate with families and ensure their attendance?

SCS must also be strategic in evaluating the negative impacts on retaining students mid-year. Retaining students in elementary grades is less harmful compared to later years, but SCS needs to communicate to families that retention is not a punishment. It will be critical to ask, what supports will be given to students who are forced to integrate into a new grade mid-year?

Thousands of students may not be promoted based on the new criteria. We must ensure that literacy funding is prioritized and supports are put in place to balance out the negative repercussions of retaining students at a large scale. This policy change is an attempt to transform a local culture that is too accepting of low literacy for our children, and we need to recognize that a real 3rd Grade Commitment must come from our entire community.

A real 3rd Grade Commitment means investment in true, universal pre-K that is not solely needs-based. It means stressing the importance of K-2 foundations and making sure that the universal phonics curriculum recently funded in the SCS budget is a high-quality, evidence-based choice.

SCS must invest not only in literacy laureates (teachers who coach part-time), but also in full-time literacy coaches, because research shows that they have the most impact on student achievement. In addition, we should look to identify opportunities to reduce student-teacher ratios as a way to further enhance learning.

Holistic support that addresses non-academic challenges that students face requires increased school support staff, such as counselors, social workers, and trauma-responsive family engagement specialists. These investments should be intertwined with implementation efforts for the recently passed SCS resolution to become a trauma-informed district. An enhanced communication between all entities in the district will be necessary to enact a strategy for comprehensive student development

If you are a parent, teacher, or advocate, plan to attend one of the 3rd Grade Commitment community meetings to make your voice heard. If you have questions or have suggestions for the community resource toolbox, contact [email protected]. If you’re ready to get involved in community advocacy for the 3rd Grade Commitment, join us at Stand for Children in our Graduation Success for College & Career Task Force.

Lastly, you can join Chalkbeat journalists on August 22nd at an early literacy listening tour to ask questions, gather more information, and learn about opportunities to connect with Chalkbeat in the future.

For over a year, Stand for Children, MICAH, and 9-0-One have been working both separately and together to define occasions for improving educational opportunities for students in Shelby County. We have talked with Shelby County Schools (SCS) administrators, SCS Board Members, County Commissioners, the County Mayor, parents, students, and other community stakeholders and have outlined a list of requests and recommendations that are in alignment with the goals, priorities, and plans of both the district and our county officials, as well as many of the hopes and dreams for young people that we have heard across the community. Where research exists, we have focused on proven, evidence-based approaches to develop opportunities for increasing support and success for all students.

When we found that our organizations had set similar focus areas, we decided to join as a collaborative to share our research, experience, knowledge, skills, and solutions. We knew that the power of a unified community voice for our young people was a model that needed to be seen and heard.

As SCS enters its budget process and considers the investments that the district wants to make in 2019-2020, we recently presented SCS Board Members with our proposals for setting priorities and making investments for SCS students. While some of these requests may not require more funding, we must be bold in what we want for our young people and cannot shy away from asking for what is needed. Even if these requests mean that the SCS budget must increase, we look forward to pushing with SCS leaders and board members for the funding from Shelby County to ensure that SCS and its partners are able to deliver these impactful investments with fidelity.

Click here to download a PDF of our full presentation to the SCS School Board.

Supporting Schools to Help Students Succeed

The requests included in this section have some of the strongest backing based on the clear researched evidence and best practices that have been gathered on these topics.

Graduation Success for College and Career

Every student should be given the support necessary to graduate from high school and, upon graduation, students should be prepared for success in either college or their chosen career path.

In order to meet SCS’ Destination 2025 goal of a 90% graduation rate, we must ensure that every high school is focused on making sure 9th graders are on track by 2021.

  • Commit to all high schools having an intentional, evidence-based 9th grade-on-track program by 2021. Research indicates this should include at least bi-weekly 9th grade team meetings, focused student data monitoring, targeted academic interventions, one-on-one coaching support, freshman seminar/advisory class, participation in peer improvement network, and summer bridge program for 8th graders.
  • For 2019-2020, support expansion of the Freshman Success Network with 5 additional SCS traditional high schools (9 current schools) for a total of 14 traditional high schools in 2019-2020.

$65,000 per school with current allocation and summer bridge pilot (6 schools, 50 students each).

Estimated Cost: $1.3 million

High-quality career pathways should be available equitably to all students.

  • Programs should include rigorous curriculum and instruction towards industry certification, structured learning communities, work-based learning, an industry advisory board to ensure industry connection to all components, and school-based staff to ensure high-quality programs and assist students in post-graduation planning.
  • Funding to support expansion of NAF Academies with at least 6 more Academies.

Estimated Cost: $125,000 plus staffing costs (1 person for Academies oversight per school)

We can significantly impact literacy in grades K-2 by using research-based best practices to provide the supports needed to ensure that as few 2nd grade students as possible are retained under the new policy.

  • Create a more comprehensive early literacy pilot program with expansion of EL Foundations to 16 additional schools (from current 8); provide literacy coaches for each of the 24 elementary schools in the pilot; increase access to high-quality, culturally relevant books in pilot classrooms.

Est. $2.8 million (curriculum & materials, PD, coaches, and books)

  • Additional benefit could come from commitment to 18 students per class for K-2.

Facilities & Funding Our Students Deserve

All students need facilities and classrooms that meet 21st century standards.

  • By August 2019, SCS should develop a comprehensive footprint analysis for Shelby County Schools (including charter schools and ASD) that emphasizes access to academic opportunities and social-emotional learning. SCS can allocate the funding needed to create this analysis in the 2019-20 SCS Budget.
  • By December 2019, SCS should develop a 7- to 10-year comprehensive facilities investment plan that is equitable for students and neighborhoods, focused on 21st century learning needs, and aligns resources to serve students and families well. SCS can allocate the funding needed to create the facilities investment plan in the 2019-20 SCS Budget.

Breaking the School to Prison Pipeline

Students who are suspended from school lose valuable learning time, and can be set on a path that impacts the rest of their lives. 

SCS has recently committed to become a trauma-informed and responsive district that understands that we must begin to better address the social and emotional needs of all students and do our best to prevent and address Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

  • Trauma responsive schools – SCS should create a 10-school pilot that includes additional staff and both proactive (SEL curriculum) and reactive (restorative practices) programs, training, and support.

Estimated Cost: $2 million

SCS has recognized the use of exclusionary practices (out-of-school suspensions and expulsions) as a serious challenge and should continue to make progress in reducing these.

  • Ensure that all elementary schools have designated staff for supportive, trauma-responsive in-school suspension or similar alternatives to out-of-school suspensions (e.g., reset rooms).
  • All schools should have a trauma-responsive trained Family Engagement Specialist who supports students and families with connections to interventions and supports in-school and outside of school. Adding 30 each year, this could be accomplished within 3 years. Clear metrics should be set around decreasing chronic absenteeism, suspensions, and expulsions.
    • 30 additional Family Engagement Specialists for 2019-2020 school year.

Estimated Cost: $1.8 million

There is a great need for additional counselors, social workers, and/or behavioral specialists in schools, but there may be a lack of certified candidates available for the scale needed by SCS.

  • Support staff that schools fund through their SBB, Title I, or other school-based funding source should come from a pool of candidates and fall under the oversight (with appropriate training and support) of the primary SCS office for that role.
    • This will help to maintain consistency in abilities and expectations for all schools with the same role in that school.
    • For example, all Family Engagement Specialists should be overseen by FACE and all Behavioral Specialists should be overseen by Student Support Services.

Community Investment for All Youth

In the schools, we see community investment through making our schools more equitable and ensuring that we are meeting the needs of all of our students and families.

Memphis has a growing population of non-English speaking community members. We should work as a community to welcome our neighbors and ensure they have equitable access to needed information.

  • Ensure an option for students to have their report cards and all official documents (prioritizing IEPs and 504s) translated and printed in Spanish with plans to expand to all students’ families’ preferred language.  Provide resources in the budget to ensure the implementation for the 2019-2020 school year.

SCS can help to stem the tide of Opportunity Youth by providing supports and programs that recognize and address the challenges faced by justice-involved youth.

  • SCS should commit to continue funding for Project STAND at Carver High School to replace expiring federal funding and to explore expanding the program to more schools with high concentrations of justice-involved youth.

Estimated Cost: $450,000

City of Memphis

  • Increase MPLOY summer job opportunities from current 1,750 to 5,000 by 2022.

City of Memphis & Shelby County

When it comes to the relationship between school facilities and academic achievement, study after study seems to confirm what we already know: that the quality and condition of the physical space has an effect on students’ motivation and performance. Simply put, it is difficult to concentrate on learning while immersed in an environment that is too hot or too cold, has poor air quality that triggers asthma and other respiratory issues, is too cramped or noisy, is prone to rodent or insect infestations, or that is set up with outdated, ill-functioning equipment. If we are serious about ensuring that every child has a chance to succeed in school, then adequate funding for physical facilities should be an important part of the community conversation.

Shelby County Schools currently has building stock of which almost 80 percent is at least 40 years old, with many facilities still furnished with their original equipment. In 2014, a commissioned report found $476 million in deferred maintenance across the district, and that total has since climbed to more than $500 million. Historically, there have been deep disparities in the quality of the facilities that students in Shelby County attend. Many of those disparities still exist today, which makes facilities maintenance another factor in attaining educational equity – particularly when school closures or consolidations are often methods of addressing deferred maintenance.

Every student deserves a school environment that is safe, comfortable, and conducive to learning – one that is fully equipped to facilitate the teaching modes and technology needs of the twenty-first century. This year, SCS will spend a record-setting $90.2 million on construction and maintenance projects, but that is still a drop in the bucket. To truly remedy historic inequities and have a lasting positive effect on student attendance and achievement, the district needs a comprehensive and equitable facilities maintenance plan, along with the funds to implement it.

Let’s make it happen. Sign our petition today and add your support for modern, high-quality school facilities that enhance learning for all of our community’s children.

For many people, the concept of a charter school is still new and unfamiliar, but these schools share a lot of commonalities with traditional public schools. We hosted “The Great Debate: Exploring the Role of Charter Schools in Memphis” on Tuesday, November 13 in an effort to create space for learning, transparency, and open dialogue. With a packed room and panel of four education leaders, the discussion taught us many things.

First, we all learned that charter schools are, in fact, public schools and are subject to the same academic standards, performance and accountability measures, laws, and teacher certifications as traditional schools.  School charters are reviewed for renewal every five years, and schools that do not meet expectations or do not serve their students well can be shut down.  Another similarity is that, like traditional schools, enrollment in charter schools is zoned by address, although parents can choose to enroll their children in a different charter school, if desired.

Charter schools likewise share many of the same challenges that traditional schools face, primarily the struggle for adequate funding and the general shortage of talented teachers.  In addition, all schools must deal with the social and economic realities of the communities that they serve and must find ways to address the related issues and needs of their students. 

In general terms, charter schools and traditional schools are more alike than different. Yet, charter schools are a growing phenomenon. 112 public charter schools serve students across Tennessee; 78 of those are in Memphis. What function do charter schools serve that traditional schools do not?

Here’s what we learned about charter schools in Memphis during “The Great Debate.”

Simply put, the existence of charter schools allows families to have more high-quality options for educating their children and increases their ability to choose the best education option for each individual child. Each charter school has its own governing structure, which allows greater flexibility in developing effective approaches, policies, and practices that address academic and opportunity gaps that are prevalent in the public education system. 

On the other hand, charter schools also have some room for improvement in ways that are uniquely theirs. Greater public transparency and public accountability were the two most cited by our panel of experts. As the charter school movement grows, it will be even more important to make sure that families and students know their rights, that expectations are agreed upon and met, and that all schools create a healthy environment and culture that is conducive to learning.  

There is also an opportunity to diversify models for charter schools – to include more schools that are focused on careers and trades in addition to the current emphasis on college preps.  Even with those caveats, panelists agreed that charter schools enhance our local education landscape and help raise the bar of excellence in a way that is accessible to families of all income levels.

In closing, here are key takeaways from the charter school discussion:

  1.  There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to public education.
  2. Charter schools are public, nonprofit schools that are held to the same standards, performance measures, laws, and qualifications as traditional public schools
  3. Charter schools increase access to high-quality education options for all families and students.
  4. Charter schools, like traditional schools, work best when they are led by people who know and understand the unique resources, concerns, and challenges of the communities that they serve.
  5. Leadership and instructors from both types of schools have much to learn from and teach each other, and opportunities for mutual knowledge-sharing, relationship-building, and collaboration benefit everyone.
  6. Regardless of the type of school, a high-quality education should be defined not only by academic performance, but by factors such as social and emotional support for students, governing structure, finances, teacher retention, and other nuanced elements determined by our community.
  7. Nonprofits, businesses, and individuals can get involved with charter schools by helping individual schools meet specific needs that they have identified at their schools.
  8. No matter what type of school they attend, all students deserve a great education, and continued collaboration between Shelby County Schools, the Achievement School District, and other charter schools and districts will help to make that community vision a reality.

In February, we highlight the contributions that African Americans have made to develop and advance our country and society. Each year during black history month, individuals are remembered and celebrated for their achievements; breaking barriers; and overcoming numerous obstacles. Despite advancements made, African Americans still confront inequities and face discrimination in employment, education, and other areas that affect quality of life. Perhaps the most important area to address to move forward is education – as the children of today prepare to become our leaders for tomorrow.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
– Nelson Mandela

To ensure a fairer and equitable model of education for black and brown students in America, we must all answer the call to intentionally dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline that damages, disables and devastates our nation’s youth. This transformative work is essential to our ultimate freedom and liberation.

Often, the first form of discrimination or state violence black and brown youth suffer is inequitable education and spatial segregation. [State Violence can be described as the policies and practices of repression and control used against marginalized groups by government or legal institutions. The damaging and debilitating effects of state violence can be seen in the courts, workplaces and/or schools.]

Black children and families have been violently indoctrinated into a system in America where learning means learning to stay in your place, devoid of question or complaint. In 1961, a group of courageous youth known as the Memphis 13 challenged this notion by becoming the first to integrate all white schools in Memphis, where historically learning environments and instructional resources are superior. While the precedent for students transitioning from schools that were under resourced and deemed unconstitutional was set in the 1960s, today, inequities in predominantly white and predominantly black schools and resulting achievement rates are still prevalent and striking cause for concern and action.Across America, urban schools are occupied with school resource officers and educators who sometimes confuse typical, adolescent misbehavior with criminality. Zero tolerance policies that lead to disproportionate & automatic suspensions as well as aerosol weapons such as Freeze + P and pepper spray invade hallways and classrooms.

The school-to-prison pipeline results in suspensions of black youth at three times the rate of their white peers, long hours in court opposed to the classroom, and a greater possibility of having a lifelong involvement with the criminal justice system. Throughout the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the fear of the adolescent “superpredator” spurred law makers and school districts to adopt the “zero tolerance” rhetoric into their discipline structures, policies and procedures. By the year 2000, schools were suspending more than 3 million students per year.

In order to begin to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, we must demand discipline models, policies and practices that help, not hurt students, especially our most vulnerable.

Our children’s black and brown lives will not truly matter until our halls are free of aerosol weapons, order- maintenance policing in schools is dissolved, equitable funding reaches the classrooms and zero tolerance policies are no more.

This is the type of work that Stand for Children is engaged in year-round. Showing up, speaking out and advocating to ensure that all children, regardless of their background, graduate from high school prepared for, and with access to college or career training.

We stand in solidarity with our ancestors who learned to read and write while facing death, mutilation, and forced permanent separation from family.

We stand in solidarity with politicians of African descent who led the fight for universalized public education during the era of Reconstruction.We stand in solidarity with Septima Clark and others who developed Citizenship Schools.

We stand in solidarity with SNCC who birthed Freedom Schools during the 1964 Freedom Summer in Mississippi. In the spirit of educator, activist and youth organizer, Ella Baker:

“In order for us as poor and oppressed people to become part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed… It means facing a system that does not lend its self to your needs and devising means by which you change that system.”

Access to a quality school is not equivalent to access to a quality or equitable education.  Despite the fact quality schools are essential, they are only a fraction of the equation not the entire equation. We must and can do more to level the playing field and change the odds for current students and future generations – especially for those students who look like me.

Parent member, Velithia J. Pendergrass, shares her experience of enrolling her daughter in Metro Nashville Public School’s pre-K program.  

I entered my daughter, Timora, into the Metro Nashville Public School (MNPS) early enrollment lottery this year and she was accepted at Ivanetta Davis Early Learning Center. This is actually the 2nd year we tried the lottery since she did not get into the school I wanted her to last year when she was 3.

First, I went to my local enrollment center and followed the steps to complete the application through MNPS. At which point, Timora received a student identification number. From there, we selected the schools that were of interest to us, we ranked from most to least interested, and then we waited.

I made sure all my i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed by the time enrollment came around this year. I was deliberate about researching possible school of interest and being prepared by the time enrollment opened. I made sure to apply on the first available date.

My favorite part of the pre-K program at Ivanetta Davis Early Learning Center is that Timora is allowed to explore her academic interests at an early age. Her favorite part is a center called “Dramatic Play,” where she enjoys housekeeping. She practices sweeping, fruit washing, food preparation, and other practical life skills. Timora says wants to be a chef.

I think that it is important for parents to understand that early education is of great importance and identifying how your child learns is crucial to their long-term success.

Pre-K and other similar programs jumpstart that process. This, to me, is most important. Pre-K helps identify where a child is in their development and shapes their educational path toward success. 

Quality early-learning programs improve outcomes and narrow gaps.
Research shows that high-quality pre-K programs (which may include state pre-K, Head Start, and other early-learning and development programs designed to foster young children’s early development and learning to support school readiness) can help compensate for socioeconomic disparities and improve school readiness and later educational and life outcomes.
Click here to begin the process of quality pre-K program enrollment.

Here, Every Day, Ready, On Time. That’s what it means to be a HERO at school and frankly in life. Showing up to face your obstacles, eager and ready to accomplish your goals influences probability of success in childhood and adulthood.

Regular and consistent school attendance is vital to academic success. Chronic absenteeism and truancy can have lasting negative impacts on student growth. Delinquent behavior, low literacy skills, grade repetition, and high school drop out are just a few of the outcomes that absenteeism may cause. 

Research indicates that student growth begins to suffer academically if 10% or more of school days are missed, and students in Tennessee who do not attend school regularly are five times more likely to drop out than their peers with satisfactory attendance. Attendance is even more critical in early childhood as too many absences beginning in Kindergarten can affect a child’s ability to learn to read and write, and cause them to fall behind in school.

In one Memphis school, its leaders and parents are working together to ensure students are positioned to succeed and collectively setting an example for how to maintain and increase attendance.

Vision Preparatory Charter School (Vision Prep) has one of the highest school attendance rates in the city – an average of 95%. Executive Director, Tom Benton says the keys to keeping attendance high are providing structure and making students love coming to school.

“We know that students, teachers, and parents appreciate structure in school and in academics. Through great lesson planning, our teachers make learning exciting, engaging and fun – which drives great conduct and attendance.”

The school also uses an attendance board to track, highlight and celebrate student attendance daily.

“I know from personal experience how hard it is when you fall behind. I grew up in foster care, went to multiple schools, and had no consistent way to [get to] school, which made it hard for me to catch up. I make sure that my child doesn’t have to go through that and deal with any additional stress.“ 

Tabatha Jones, the parent of a Vision Prep kindergarten student, agrees that structure is important to encourage attendance. But ensuring that her daughter, Kiara, maintains HERO standing is about more than attendance, it’s about giving her child a better shot at succeeding in school than she had.

“I know from personal experience how hard it is when you fall behind. I grew up in foster care, went to multiple schools, and had no consistent way to [get to] school, which made it hard for me to catch up. I make sure that my child doesn’t have to go through that and deal with any additional stress.”

She advises other parents to plan ahead, maintain a strict schedule, ask for help, and carpool to ensure children are attending school daily and arriving on time, in addition to nurturing your child’s budding independence.

“After school, homework is always done first. I set a daily alarm for myself at 6:20 a.m. and in the morning I get up and make sure everything is set out such as uniform and toothbrush. I also put an alarm in my child’s room for 6:30am so that she knows when to wake up every morning. It teaches her how to get up on her own.”

In Shelby County, chronic absenteeism is a growing concern. In the 2014-2015 school year, 17.3 % (20,284 students) missed 10 or more of the required minimum of 180 days in attendance, an increase from the previous school year.

At Stand for Children, we’re encouraging parents to commit to making sure your child reaches HERO status by taking the following action:

 » Set a regular routine for homework and bedtime.

 » Get to know your child’s teachers and administrators.

 » Make sure your child knows that regular school attendance matters.

 » Seek help from your school or community if you are facing tough challenges.

 » Develop back-up plans for getting to school in case of emergencies, such as calling on a family member, a neighbor, or another parent.

Parental involvement is essential to combat school absenteeism and small changes can have a huge impact at home and at school.

Stay engaged with Stand for Children for updates and tips on how to support your child’s academic growth and advancement.

Be your child’s HERO! 



Stand for Children Tennessee’s mission is to ensure that all children, regardless of their background, graduate from high school prepared for, and with access to, a college education or career training. Learn more at

As an Organizer, London works to improve the education system and schools in Memphis.

As Stand for Children celebrates 20 years as an organization, hear from one of our awesome parent leaders, Ginger Spickler, on how joining and being involved with Stand has impacted her life.

I first got involved in Stand during the Memphis City School charter surrender issue, as a way of learning more about why that was happening and what it would mean for our schools. Stand provided not only education on the issue, but provided training on how to make my voice heard during the charter surrender and the Transition Planning Commission’s work immediately after. It was incredibly empowering.

One of the best opportunities Stand afforded me was serving as a facilitator in several Stand UP (University for Parents) courses. I was able to share a lot of what I’d learned about how education works, how we can best support our kids in school, and how we can use our voices as parents to fight for better opportunities for them. It was so rewarding to see parents come back week after week for the class (not for my fabulous facilitating, I know!), but because they were learning so much from each other and feeling more empowered week after week. 

 I was able to share a lot of what I’d learned about how education works, how we can best support our kids in school, and how we can use our voices as parents to fight for better opportunities for them. 

Since joining Stand, I have gained a great deal of confidence in being able to speak up about the education issues that affect Memphis children. I even started a website called Memphis School Guide that serves as a resource to parents about how to find the right school for their children. Being a member of Stand definitely helped give me the knowledge and confidence I needed to take on that challenge. I’ve also met people from throughout our community who I may never have crossed paths with otherwise, but who also have similar concerns about the quality of education their children are getting, and how we might do better by them.

I’m a member of Stand because I have concerns about education in Memphis and beyond, and I believe that Stand for Children has been one of the strongest forces locally for organizing parents and other stakeholders to represent the best interests of kids. As a parent, I see firsthand how challenges in our schools impact my own children and the others they go to school with. We can complain about those challenges, or we can try to make them better—Stand helps me do the latter.

For more information on how you can get involved with Stand, visit