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Jubilee Schools moving to all-year calendar

by Jane Roberts

Check out the exciting news from The Jubilee Schools Catholic Network, published in The Commercial Appeal


The Jubilee Schools will be the first school system in the city to move to a year-round calendar, starting this summer when the Catholic network opens its doors in July.

The school year also will have 200 days instead of 180, the equivalent of an extra month. Teachers have until Friday to decide if they want be participate in the new calendar, which will include “significant” raises, part of a new pay system rolling out at the same time.

“So far, the response has been enthusiastic,” says Dr. David Hill, 37, architect of landmark changes in the Jubilee Schools. Three years ago, he instituted a new teacher evaluation system — including the use of test scores to judge teacher effectiveness and pay. Under his leadership, the Jubilee Schools also adopted the Common Core State Standards.

In October, the Memphis Catholic diocese separated the Jubilee Schools from the 19 other schools it runs here and put Hill in charge of the network, which includes Memphis Catholic High and Middle School.

Hill reports to the newly formed Board of Catholic Memphis Schools. Bishop Terry Steib is a member. The organizational chart includes seven administrative hires for the Jubilee Network, five of them still on the drawing board as the diocese puts together the springboard that will allow the schools to grow, compete and corner an even larger share of public philanthropy.

The idea is to usher in reforms — borrowed from the public sphere where Hill came from — to increase performance and accountability in the private, inner-city Jubilee Schools. More than 90 percent of students in the eight elementary Jubilee Schools are minorities; 87 percent qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

The pay structure is being revamped to compete public schools in the region for teaching talent, allowing Hill as he says to “retain our best teachers and hire more as good as our best ones.”

Other Catholic schools around the nation are making changes in governance but not as fast as the Jubilee Schools, said Christian Dallavis, senior director of the Alliance for Catholic Education at the University of Notre Dame.

“What we are trying to do is raise the bar on both academic and faith-formation in the Catholic schools, especially those that serve low-income communities,” he said.

“To get higher student achievement, the way I see it, it’s not rocket science. You need great teaching and more of it. The more instructional minutes you can capture, the stronger your students will become.”

The calendar, in draft stages now, includes two-week breaks after each quarter. School would start in mid- to late July. Individual schools can opt out, but as of Wednesday, the majority were on board.

Part of the success is Hill’s leadership. He’s made it clear to the principals that he’s not changing from a running to passing game or making changes in the offense.

What he wants to do is leverage the freedom and autonomy the schools already have, which includes their agility, to make changes that will improve student success.

“We see our students grow really at rapid rates during the year and then take two steps backward over the summer,” Hill said. “That’s the reason we decided to go to this balanced- calendar approach.”

By age 32, Hill, Memphian and Princeton University alum, had left a significant mark on public education reform here. In 2005, he was founding principal of Soulsville Charter School in South Memphis, one of the largest and best-known charters in the city. In 2008, when he joined the administrative team at Memphis City Schools, he was soon lead writer of the grant that produced $90 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Jubilee Schools have a unique cachet in Memphis. Through philanthropists — who have remained anonymous for more than 16 years — the eight Catholic elementary schools reopened after being closed, some for decades, starting in 1999. St. Augustine in South Memphis was the first.

Philanthropists (Hill will not say whether they are the original benefactors) have agreed to provide “seed” money for the $1.4 million in additional payroll if all nine schools join.

“Money has always been the obstacle,” said Daniel Salvaggio, principal at De La Salle at Blessed Sacrament in Binghamton. “With that out of the way, we were really able to focus more on what we want to focus on, including who it will affect and what we will do with out school.”

MCS considered a year-round calendar when Kriner Cash was superintendent, tipping off a quiet revolt from parents and teachers who did not want the central office tampering with their summer vacations.

Salvaggio has heard some of the same sentiment. “The school schedule is so ingrained in our lives; you can’t change something like that without a reaction on the other side.”

He says it will mean finding other blocks of time for professional development. Most teachers now use summers for training. It also means being aware that family schedules, including day care, are tied to the traditional, agrarian-based school calendar.

“Overwhelmingly, the feeling is positive for what it would do for our students,” Salvaggio said. “The large majority of parents and teachers see that as the main goal.”  

Article originally published in The Commercial Appeal on Jan. 8, 2015

Posted by John Gaskill at 1:27 PM