Ninth grade is a make-or-break year for students. If a student ends ninth grade “on-track,” meaning having successfully completed at least a quarter of the credits needed to graduate, they are 3-4 times more likely to graduate on time than their off-track peers. This session, our Center for High School Success team advocated for HB 1295, which would invest in targeted 9th grade student success supports, and it passed almost unanimously! This new investment will increase awareness of best practices to support 9th grade success across Tennessee, which will allow schools to set up systems that help our students finish their freshmen year on track and ultimately improve graduation rates throughout the state.

HB 1295 was one of the 2023 winners of EdTrust TN’s Ten for Tennessee award, and CHSS’ important work to increase freshmen on-track rates is featured on our website.

As of the 2022-23 school year, our Center For High School Success (CHSS) team is proud to announce that nine new partner schools joined the Freshman Success Network (FSN)! Partner schools consistently show greater numbers of freshmen who are on track to graduate than schools who are not part of the Memphis FSN, and we’re excited to welcome KIPP Collegiate, Central, Memphis Virtual, Carver, Mt. Pisgah, Oveton, Kingsbury, Southwind, and Cordova to our network. 

CHSS has had a massive positive impact in Memphis. Before the program started in the 2018-19 school year, the freshman on-track rate was only 29%. Freshman on-track rates started growing in the partner schools during that first year, and then the second and third years of CHSS (2019-20 and 2020-21) were marked by COVID. Despite the education interruptions, freshman on-track rates in partner schools still kept climbing. Last school year (2021-22), 83% of freshman students in partner schools were on track to graduate on time.  

Thanks to this huge growth, the Memphis FSN program is becoming a national leader for other states that participate in CHSS. Three of our schools (Oakhaven, Booker T. Washington, and Kirby), are now designated as demonstration schools, meaning that other states’ CHSS teams can look to these schools for how to successfully run the programs. In the coming year, our Memphis CHSS team will be working to expand across Tennessee and will advocate to add 9th grade success as a state-level accountability measure for our schools. 

We’re proud of all we’ve achieved so far for our students, and we’re looking forward to another year of gains!

Stand for Children’s Center for High School Success works with 20 high schools across Shelby County to support them in focusing on supports for students in their make-or-break ninth grade year. In its second year in the Memphis Freshman Success Network (FSN), Hamilton High School has not only increased its on-track rate from quarter 1 to quarter 2 of the current school year, they have also achieved a year over year increase of up to 25% —showing that effective implementation of our ninth grade on-track initiatives yields positive outcomes.

It’s no secret that strong leadership is vital to the success of the Freshman Success initiative, and this is evident in the attendance from Hamilton Principal James Bacchus and his full team at every Collaborative (meetings of all FSN schools) we’ve held since the launch of the FSN. The Hamilton Freshman Success Team, led by Mrs. Cicely Dunigan Brooks, can be found huddled up at each Collaborative, questioning one another on how best to apply the learning and take-a-ways they’ve gathered at this day-long professional development session. 

Mrs. Brooks meets regularly with Hamilton’s Freshman Success Coach, Dr. Nina Reed, reviewing data and discussing accountable means of adult collaboration that focus on improving student outcomes. Team Hamilton also involves parents in this initiative, holding regular parent meetings to inform parents of students’ progress, needs and other areas. Team Hamilton is fully invested in the work of freshman success, and we look forward to supporting them towards continuous measures of improvement. Check out the recognition of this great work in the Tri-State Defender.

Research has shown that students who complete their freshman year on track — earning at least a quarter of the credits needed for graduation with no more than one “F” in a core course — are four times more likely to graduate on time than their off-track peersIn fact, freshmen success is more predictive of high school graduation than race, ethnicity, poverty level, and previous test scores combined. By focusing on the academic success of ninth-grade students, we can substantially increase graduation rates in our community. 

That’s why we established the Memphis Freshman Success Network (FSN), first as a pilot project in 2017 and then as a full program beginning with the 2018-2019 school year. We provide school leaders and ninth-grade educators with professional development, job-embedded coaching, access to an advanced data platform, and the technical assistance needed to develop and implement highly effective programs and practices for keeping ninth-grade students on the path to on-time graduation.

Earlier this month, we recognized the great efforts of the 13 high schools in the 2018-2019 Memphis FSN cohort and celebrated their successes at a special luncheon featuring guest speaker Janice Wells, CEO of Sankofa Education Group who, as Chicago Public Schools’ deputy chief of high schools, pioneered successful strategies that resulted in 24 schools in her designated area outperforming other high schools across the district in freshmen on-track, graduation, and college enrollment rates.

We’ve worked diligently with the Memphis FSN school teams this past year and, as a result, schools in the network saw an overall (combined) 30 percentage point increase in the number of freshmen who are on track to graduate at the end of the third quarter than at the same point in the previous school year, with the percentage point increases at individual schools ranging from 16 to 61. Kudos to each school team for such remarkable and rewarding outcomes for the first year!

Although the 2018-2019 school year is drawing to a close, our work with the Memphis Freshmen Success Network is still moving at full speed. This summer, we will add nine new schools into a second FSN cohort for the 2019-2020 school year. Encouraged by what we’ve seen so far, we look forward to collaborating with all of our teams, current and new, toward even greater improvements in ninth-grade success rates in the new year.

To support the work of Stand for Children Tennessee, please consider making a tax-deductible donation today.

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

Memphis’ summer youth employment program, MPLOY, is lagging compared to peer cities like Saint Louis and Chicago. These cities are both excellent examples of the impact that investment in youth can have on previously disinvested communities. Explicit mayoral emphasis on youth investment and financial follow-through allowed these programs the opportunity to succeed for their city’s youth.

Chicago’s One Summer Chicago program has particularly flourished quickly since its creation in 2011. In only seven years, the city of Chicago has managed to provide more than 32,000 summer jobs to youth annually. In contrast, the MPLOY program was created in 2014 with 1,000 available jobs and has not experienced substantial growth since.

The programs in Saint Louis and Chicago are more successful than SYEPs in other peer cities because they actively address and target inequality among applicants. In both Saint Louis and Chicago, there is no expectation that youth be enrolled in school in order to participate in the program. This dedication to serving all youth, rather than just those on the “right” path, addresses the societal issues of discriminatory poverty, especially salient in cities such as Chicago and Saint Louis as well as Memphis, which encourages discriminatory drop-outs and expulsions from American school systems.

On the contrary, the MPLOY program’s requirement for a participant to be in school only perpetuates societal inequities and ensures that out-of-school youth remain uneducated with menial, if any, employment. With the right approach and proper investments, we could open this opportunity to more and close the opportunity gap for many. Continue reading to find out how.

Youth investment programs have traditionally been created to invest in youth who were born into an advantageous position, so the programs in Saint Louis and Chicago are making great strides by actively working against that tradition.

Saint Louis’ Youth Jobs program is especially dedicated to combating systemic inequality, and it has done so by ensuring that participation is solely open to youth who have been previously excluded from community investment. This is done through “target neighborhoods,” meaning that positions are only available to youth living in areas which have high rates of youth unemployment, poverty, and juvenile crime and low graduation rates.

Throughout the program, 55% of participants received assistance with one or more basic needs such as clothing, transportation, childcare, or health services. Those working on Youth Jobs in Saint Louis believe that their program will increase the ability of Saint Louis’ youth to obtain meaningful work and contribute to their families and communities, thereby increasing the prosperity of the city as a whole.

Administrators of the Memphis program have likewise made an attempt to use this program as a means through which to more fairly redistribute resources such as wealth and career development. The MPLOY program chooses participants through a random lottery system with spaces allocated to school districts dependent on their students’ overall relative economic disadvantages.

However, in order to truly combat societal inequality, and thereby create a more competitive workforce, Memphis needs to truly invest in education initiatives and youth opportunities like the MPLOY Summer Youth Experience Program. This would require a shift in focus from investing in police and fire, whose two budgets jointly comprise 64.41% of the 2019 budget, to an investment in people.

We’ve written before about Memphis’ opportunity youth – the estimated 30,000 to 45,000 young people aged 16 to 24 who are not in school and are unemployed. On December 11, we hosted “The ABCs of Career and Technical Education” to examine the reasons behind such high numbers of youth disengagement and discuss existing and emerging programs that provide them with the means to explore career, technical, and entrepreneurial pathways beyond their K–12 educations. 

Local youth face a myriad of personal, bureaucratic, and systemic barriers to educational attainment. They can easily become trapped in a feedback loop in which past traumas, the struggle to meet basic needs, and the lack of structure in their lives contribute to a vague, uncertain perception of the future and dampens their desire to push forward.  This applies even more for those who cannot or do not want to attend college, which is often framed as the only path to a successful career. Organizations that provide career and technical education (CTE) help young people realize that a college degree is only one path to realizing their dreams, and not a requirement for success

During our discussion, we were able to learn about three organizations in Memphis and what Shelby County Schools is doing to expose young adults to more opportunities. Each of these organizations are dedicated to building relationships with local youth, helping them to overcome their barriers, and providing them with access to opportunities for rewarding, living-wage employment. 

Shelby County Schools has approximately more than fifty programs that cover 16 career tracks at schools throughout the district. The district is working to make more programs and resources available at more schools but, in the meantime, students can transfer to specific schools in order to enroll in a desired program.  To enable more students to take advantage of these programs, SCS has been shifting CTE classes to locations on-site at schools rather than at specific CTE centers and has been introducing online components for lower-level classes. An added bonus: SCS will pay for all certifications across all of its programs this year. 

Computational thinking is the focus at CodeCrew, where youth receive practical training for careers in information technology. Code School is a six-month, hands-on boot camp designed to teach the fundamentals of coding, app development, and other software development skills. There are no up-front costs for Code School participants, and each student is provided with a laptop. CodeCrew partners with local companies to place its graduates in entry-level software development positions and provides graduates with ongoing advising and mentoring as they transition into their new careers.

LITE Memphis aims to equip African American and Latinx students with the tools and skills to build wealth. LITE’s eight-year program provides high school students with the resources to develop entrepreneurial projects, which they then have an opportunity to pitch to members of the local community.  After high school graduation, LITE helps participants secure paid internships while they attend college. The program culminates with participants placed in a high-wage job or starting a business of their own.  There is no charge to participate in the program; students receive stipends so that they can focus on working toward their goals. 

The Collective offers a 9-week intensive course that allows youth to learn about the different career fields that are prominent in Memphis while receiving instruction in resume-writing, interviewing, and other related skills. After the intensive, coaches work with youth to get them into a post-secondary partner school, where they are also enrolled in internships or apprenticeships in their chosen field. Throughout the program, students receive stipends and grants so that they can focus on their work. Upon certification, participants are placed in entry-level jobs in high-demand fields. Mentoring continues after job placement, and participants are encouraged to continue their education and grow in their chosen field.

Four great opportunities in Memphis, Tennessee, that are dedicated to serving the untapped potential of our youth. As we look for more investments from city leaders, we marvel at the leadership and initiative shown by our neighboring leaders to fill the gaps.

That’s how much time my 2nd and 3rd grade classes have read over the past 8 weeks during our literacy challenge at Hull Jackson.

Children with a strong reading background are able to keep up better in other subjects. Reading helps with critical thinking skills and better prepares students to engage in work that requires great focus and clarity.

In the classroom, I take steps to promote the discussion of books. I read the books that they do, like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. We also like to watch the movie version of a book after the students have read it. This is a fun way to see if our visualization of the story was similar to what the director, cinematographer, and screenwriter showed.

It’s important to take reading outside of the classroom too, and I work with parents throughout the year to support their child in reading. For busy parents like myself, I suggest listening to books on CD in the car, and then hitting the pause button to discuss the story.  

Encouraging reading through our literacy challenge this year has had students discussing books more than video games or other entertainment. We have had so many exchanges that I am adding a book report wall for students to recommend a book to a classmate.

Every child, with the proper support, can become a strong reader – and each of us has a role to play. Join me in helping to close the reading proficiency gap in our homes and communities.