Adult Education

State abruptly ends adult education contract with Shelby County Schools

PHOTO: Micaela Watts
Messick Adult Center has been the home of Shelby County Schools' GED program, which will shut down this month as the state ends its adult education contract with the district.

More than 800 adult learners in Memphis are expected to be impacted beginning this week as a result of the state’s decision to cancel its $800,000 adult education contract with Shelby County Schools.

The district was notified of the canceled contract in a Feb. 4 letter from Jason Beard, administrator of adult education programs for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Beard’s letter did not identify a reason for the shutdown, but department spokesman Chris Cannon cited the district’s low graduation rate for its program to help adults obtain their high school equivalency diploma. Between July and December of last year, the program graduated only 24 students, he said.

The severed contract also will impact students in the district’s adult classes for English language learners, Cannon said, although he was uncertain about the size of that program.

For at least the last five years, the programs have operated out of Messick Adult Center. Located in Orange Mound, a low-income neighborhood of Memphis, Messick is the only adult education program run by Shelby County Schools.

Shelby County is home to a significant number of residents who are not high school graduates. More than 93,000 people older than 18 do not have a high school diploma, according to U.S. Census data.

As of January, 882 students were participating in the district’s high school equivalency courses, according to Cannon.

The state’s letter said the contract would be terminated effective March 7, but state and district officials later agreed to end classes this Thursday. Last week, state workers began removing interactive whiteboards and other technology from classrooms at Messick.

The current contract was set to end June 30 but, after “an ongoing, year-long dialogue with Shelby County Schools regarding their performance,” the state terminated the contract, Cannon said.

“Each day this decision was prolonged was a day that could have been utilized to improve the program for the citizens of Shelby County,” Cannon said in an email. “After numerous exhaustive efforts to bring about improvement, termination of the contract was the only option left available.”

A statement released Tuesday from Shelby County Schools acknowledged that the state has canceled the district’s contract and noted that the cancellation notice did not cite a cause. “The District is unaware of any further concerns on behalf of the state regarding Messick,” the statement said.

Cannon said the state will find a replacement provider within 30 days. In the meantime, HopeWorks, a nonprofit organization and the state’s only other adult education provider in Memphis, will transition students into its program.

HopeWorks Executive Director Ron Wade said his organization has six facilities and is confident it can absorb the new students. “The most important thing for us is to make sure there are no transition issues that come through,” said Wade, adding that HopeWorks should be able to make “geographical adjustments” for students who face transportation challenges.

Rogelio Santos, a student enrolled in the GED program at Messick, said Tuesday that he and his classmates have not been informed of an impending shutdown. He said he noticed last week that computers had been removed from the classroom but, other than that, “everything seemed normal.”

“If the classes are ending, they haven’t told us,” Santos said. “I’m planning on going to class tomorrow. Maybe I’ll find out something then.”


Editor’s note: This story updates an earlier version to include the state’s clarification that English language learner students at Messick will be impacted as well.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”