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Scenes from a Memphis job fair: How one veteran teacher is struggling to return to the kindergarten classroom

NEW TRI-STATE DEFENDER — here’s still three weeks before school starts in Memphis, but on a recent afternoon, the parking lot at Hickory Ridge Middle School was packed. Veteran kindergarten teacher Sandra Jenkins pulled up at 3:17 p.m. and parked her sage green Toyota Corolla along a curb on the campus outskirts. At Shelby County Schools district’s biggest job fair of the year, other prospective teachers had already taken every spot before the massive hiring event officially started at 3 p.m.



By Kathryn Palmer

There’s still three weeks before school starts in Memphis, but on a recent afternoon, the parking lot at Hickory Ridge Middle School was packed.

Veteran kindergarten teacher Sandra Jenkins pulled up at 3:17 p.m. and parked her sage green Toyota Corolla along a curb on the campus outskirts. At Shelby County Schools district’s biggest job fair of the year, other prospective teachers had already taken every spot before the massive hiring event officially started at 3 p.m.

Ninety-seven percent of district positions are already spoken for. But like every year, a few positions in every grade and almost every subject remain open. This is the fifth teacher job fair in the region Jenkins has attended in the past 12 months. So far, she’s only been able to land substitute positions, but she’s hoping to go home from this hiring event with something more permanent.

For schools with vacancies, this time of year is “crunch time,” said Desmond Hendricks as he set up an interview table in the school gymnasium. He is a social studies teacher at Raleigh Egypt Middle School and was waiting to field candidates for five open positions in math and English. “It’s all about finding the right fit,” he said.

That’s why he joined about 75 other district schools in the gymnasium and cafeteria, prepared to interview candidates and make tentative hiring offers for dozens of vacant positions in Tennessee’s largest district.

Jenkins, 60, is hopeful she’ll be a good fit for one of those schools. The Memphis native is just one of the 224 people who showed up at the two-hour event, hoping to nail down a full-time job before school starts in mid-August. But her silver-streaked ponytail set her apart from the mass of relatively young-looking, recently certified teachers — many of whom were probably born after Jenkins started her first long term substitute teaching job at Whitehaven Elementary in 1981.

“We didn’t have job fairs back then,”Jenkins recalled, as she carefully walked through the parking lot in her marshmallow-white tennis shoes and compression socks. “We just applied to the district and got hired. Now it’s all politics and paperwork.”

As she opened the heavy double doors to start her job hunt, Jenkins passed a young, well-dressed woman skipping back into the parking lot, gleefully proclaiming, “I got the job!” into her cell phone.

“It feels like they only want young ones now,” said Jenkins, who has more than 30 years of classroom experience in Memphis public schools.

Jenkins’ age and experience level make her an outlier in the Memphis teacher workforce, which is plagued by high turnover that creates a pool of inexperienced educators. In the 2015-16 school year, approximately one in five Tennessee teachers were in their first or second years of work, according to data that schools reported to the federal government. Those figures were even higher in Memphis.

Jenkins came armed with a manilla folder containing a stack of resumes and a pitch about herself. Helping young students reach their highest potential is her broad goal, but her specific goal is to get back to teaching kindergarten. She did that for 22 years until a car accident forced her into an unexpected, early retirement from her position at Holmes Road Elementary five years ago. She took some time off to be with family and care for a now-deceased neighbor.

“I’m trying to get back into teaching, but it’s been hard,” she said.

For Jenkins, who has no children of her own, kindergarten is the only grade she can see herself teaching. “They are like my kids,” she said, as she waited in line to check in with district staff and verify her certification. “Some children that I have taught were complete blank slates when they walked into my class. I like molding them, shaping them, building their confidence.”

A district employee hands Jenkins a printout of the job openings, directing Jenkins to the school cafeteria for K-8 openings.

She scans the list looking for kindergarten openings while she walks down a corridor toward the lunchroom. Instead of sandwiches and juice boxes, job ads and interview questionnaires are strewn across the circular tables. School personnel are seated on the built-in benches, ready to interview teachers, ready to make offers.

Jenkins snakes through the maze of teachers and administrators. “I knew I’d see a bunch of people I know,” she said, smiling after spotting an old colleague, Sarah Hamer, who now works as a personal learning coach for White Station Elementary. Hamer’s looking to hire for first grade — not quite what Jenkins is looking for. “I get it. When you’re a kindergarten teacher, you’re a kindergarten teacher for life,” Hamer said to Jenkins. “If you change your mind, we’d love to interview you.”

Jenkins drops off a few resumes at other tables, careful not to interrupt interviews. Then, finally, she gets invited to sit down at the Sheffield Elementary School table for five minutes. The school has an opening for kindergarten, but they’ve already interviewed a few other candidates. They said they’d keep her resume on file.

“If people don’t like me, I move on,” Jenkins said. “Rejection doesn’t hurt me. I was one of the first black students to integrate Whitehaven Elementary in 1967. I got spit on, called names. I don’t take it personally.”

The big round clock on the white cinder block walls ticks to 4:55. By that point Jenkins had handed out almost every copy of her resume, and the crowd is thinning.

On her way out, she bumped into another former coworker, now-assistant superintendent Rodney Rowan. Jenkins told him the day hadn’t gone as well as she’d hope.

Rowan seemed surprised. “I would hire a seasoned teacher in a heartbeat,” he said, “because they don’t require as much training.” He said Jenkins could list him as a reference and he’d tell the schools: “You love children. You work hard. You stayed until the job was done. You didn’t watch the clock.”

As of 5 p.m., when the job fair ended, district recruitment and staffing associate Sheilaine Moses said they’d received 40 hiring recommendations, pending district approval. Jenkins’ name wasn’t among them.

“There’s still a few weeks before school,” Jenkins said as she walked out to the far end of now-emptied school parking lot. “It will happen if it’s supposed to.”

The post Scenes from a Memphis job fair: How one veteran teacher is struggling to return to the kindergarten classroom appeared first on Chalkbeat.

This article originally appeared in the New Tri-State Defender


On Ishmael Reed’s Inclusion and Van Jones’ Amazon Prime

Complain about the media representation of Oakland all you want. Last week, in the national media, Oakland was portrayed as a great place to live, work, and dine, with restaurants where people come up to your table and greet you like a long-lost neighbor. 



Ishmael Reed/Photo by Emil Guillermo

Complain about the media representation of Oakland all you want. Last week, in the national media, Oakland was portrayed as a great place to live, work, and dine, with restaurants where people come up to your table and greet you like a long-lost neighbor.

That Oakland. You know it? It’s the backdrop of a profile in the New Yorker magazine on Ishmael Reed, novelist, playwright, poet, and resident of Oakland. Hills? Oh no, the flats. Reed is a jazz guy; He B-flat. 

Hopefully, the joker in Reed laughs at that pun. It’s because of Reed that I am a writer. But let me not forget Flossie Lewis, my high school English teacher, and current Oakland resident. Lewis set me up. Reed delivered the punch.  

I first met Reed in St. Louis, Mo., where he was the “artist in residence” for Washington University’s first Writer’s Program. Intended to become a better Iowa Writers Workshop, it had all white writers like William Gass and Stanley Elkin. Reed was the token-in-resident. I was the token minority grad student. When one writer told me to stop writing about my Filipino family, Reed was there to tell me to put them back in. 

That’s what Ishmael did for me. 

The New Yorker profile published on July 19 compelled me to pull out Reed’s work again. “Mumbo Jumbo” (1972) re-read during the pandemic jumps off the page and is funnier than ever. People coming down with a virus that makes people dance the boogie?  It was a finalist for the National Book Award and considered for the Pulitzer Prize. 

The New Yorker also details Reed’s life with his wife, the dancer/choreographer/director Carla Blank, and their daughter, the poet Tennessee Reed. And you’ll learn how the writing all started–as a jazz columnist in the Black press for the Buffalo Empire Star.

That’s the enduring value of the ethnic media, the Black press, and newspapers like the Oakland Post. It’s still a place where diverse voices can let it all out.  

Asked about his legacy, Reed was simple and humble. “I made American literature more democratic for writers from different backgrounds,” he said. “I was part of that movement to be heard.”

I heard that. 

Van Jones’ $100 Millon Speech

Ishmael Reed is one of the only MacArthur Genius grant winners I know.

But Van Jones is the first winner of the Courage and Civility Award, which he received on July 20. Yes, that Van Jones of the Ella Baker Center. Way before CNN. I hope he remembers how he was a guest on my old New California Media roundtable talk TV show on the ethnic media more than 20 years ago on KCSM-TV. 

Because the Courage and Civility Award is $100 million unattached–from Jeff Bezos.

I wasn’t crazy about Richard Branson’s flight, so you know I’m not out-of-this-world over Bezos’s 63-mile jaunt, which I call the Neo-Space Age’s white flight. You can go beyond the suburbs.
Bezos has been hammered over not paying his taxes, and how spending billions of dollars into space travel during a time of real humanitarian need on Earth is on its face one word–obscene.

To his credit, he did what all rich people of money do when they stretch the limits of tasteful behavior.

They use their money by giving it away. It’s how the Rockefellers, the Fords, the Sacklers, the Mellons, etc., etc., can live with themselves. Albeit, far away from everyone else. Hence, the Courage and Civility Award. 

Jones was gracious about the hun mill gift. 

“I haven’t always been courageous,” said Jones.  “But I know people who are. They get up every day on the frontlines of grassroots communities. They don’t have much. But they’re good people and they fight hard. And they don’t have enough support.”
All true. And then he delivered the penance for Bezos sins.

“Can you imagine,” said Jones. “Grassroots folks from Appalachia, from the Native American reservation, having enough money to be able to connect with the geniuses that disrupted the space industry, disrupted taxis, hotels, and bookstores. Let’s start disrupting poverty. Let’s start disrupting pollution. 

“Start disrupting the $90 billion prison industry together. You take people on the frontlines and their wisdom and their genius and creativity, and you give them a shot. They’re not gonna turn around neighborhoods, they’re gonna turnaround this nation. That’s what’s going to happen.”

Then Jones had this for Bezos. “I appreciate you lifting the ceiling off of people’s dreams,” Jones said, then turned back to us. “Don’t be mad about it when you see somebody reaching for the heavens, be glad to know there’s a lot more heaven to reach for. And we can do that together.”

Bezos’ $100 million doesn’t buy a lot in the space biz. But handing it to Jones? Let’s see the disruptive good it can do on Earth.

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City Government

Mayor London Breed Celebrates Completion of Haight Street Transit Improvement Project

New streetscape design enhances pedestrian safety, activates public spaces, and creates a more vibrant Haight Street corridor



Haight Ashbury Intersection Photo Courtesy of Robin Jonathan Deutsch

Mayor London N. Breed joined city leaders, merchants, and community members at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on July 28 to celebrate the completion of the Upper Haight Transit Improvement and Pedestrian Realm Project. The transformative project improves pedestrian safety, enhances transit efficiency, and builds on the neighborhood’s vibrant character.

The two-year, $22.3 million project was based on a community-supported vision to revitalize and improve street safety and public spaces in the historic Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The redesign of Haight Street enables the most significant possible degree of flexibility by reimagining urban spaces that can evolve with the changing demands of the community.

“The Haight has a rich history that attracts tourists and locals alike, and with the completion of this streetscape project, we are making this historic neighborhood more inviting for all,” said Breed. “As we emerge from this pandemic and begin to see our city come alive again, it’s critical that we invest in the cultural vibrancy of our neighborhoods and provide our small businesses with the support they need to help drive our economic recovery.”

The project was designed to incorporate numerous safety features, including new pedestrian-scale lighting, ADA-compliant curb ramps, and expanded bus-boarding areas. The project also replaced the aging sewer system to bolster resiliency, repaved seven blocks of Haight Street between Stanyan Street and Central Avenue, and added new street trees and sidewalks to beautify the neighborhood. Crews performed additional sewer and repaving work on Masonic Avenue between Haight and Waller streets.

“The improvements are a welcome addition to the well-known neighborhood with its trove of independent retail establishments, cafes, and restaurants,” said Sunshine Powers, president of the Haight Street Merchants Association. “This project provides many wonderful enhancements that retain the character of this magnificent, sparkly corridor and will keep us thriving.”

Construction began in September 2018 and continued uninterrupted during San Francisco’s Stay-at-Home Order, which allowed work to continue on essential infrastructure. This project supported more than 130 construction and electrical trade jobs at a time when putting people to work was crucial.

San Francisco Public Works oversaw the design and construction management for the project. Key partners included the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Office of Economic and Workforce Development, and the Department of Technology.

Through the Office of Economic and Workforce Development’s (OEWD) Construction Mitigation Program, OEWD staff partnered with Public Works to provide small businesses with the necessary support to help minimize construction impacts.

“The redesign and safety enhancements bring much-needed improvements to this historic part of the City. The project serves as a great example of successful collaboration among City agencies in partnership with the community and our elected representatives to enhance neighborhood safety and livability,” said Acting Public Works Director Alaric Degrafinried.

“The changes we see on Haight Street today include a faster travel time for Muni passengers, bringing meaningful improvements to the community as we emerge from the pandemic.” said San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Director of Transportation, Jeffrey Tumlin. “The signals are designed to prioritize the 7-Haight– one of our highest ridership lines. Muni is delivering similar projects on most of our lines and we are proud to offer these improvements on Haight Street.”

“This project is another great example of City agencies working together to bring much needed improvements to our communities,” said SFPUC Acting General Manager Michael Carlin. “By upgrading and replacing our aging infrastructure, we are ensuring the safe and reliable delivery of critical sewer services to our customers.”

Funding for the improvements came from various voter-approved sources, including Proposition K sales tax revenue, the 2011 Roadway Improvement and Street Safety Bond, and the 2014 San Francisco Transportation and Road Improvement Bond. Additional funding sources included the City’s General Fund, Prop AA Grant, and Wastewater Enterprise Renewal and Replacement Funds.

“The Transportation Authority is proud to provide transportation sales tax and other funds for this project, which began with the community’s advocacy for safety and streetscape improvements along Haight Street,” said Transportation Authority Executive Director Tilly Chang. “The new traffic signals, pedestrian scale lighting, bulb-outs and curb ramps will enhance community access for the neighborhood and help achieve San Francisco’s citywide Vision Zero goal as well.”

Additional project information is available at

This report is courtesy of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Communications. 

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Bay Area

Council Approves Additional Public Safety Investments

Councilmember Thao’s amendments included direct investments in West, Central, and East Oakland, including West Oakland Community Centers, Central Oakland traffic safety, and Oakland 911 response. 



Stop typography on a sidewalk in Sterling Virginia during the fall photo courtesy of Obi Onyeador via Unsplash

Councilmember Sheng Thao

Councilmembers, community leaders, and city staff,  approved public safety investments for Oakland recommended by Councilmember Sheng Thao

These additions, approved Monday afternoon, included investments that align with the city’s reimagining public safety goals. The City Council unanimously approved Councilmember Thao’s budget amendments, which included investments in:

  • Traffic Calming and Sideshow Prevention
  • Faster 911 Response
  • Restoring Foot Patrol officers in business corridors during the holiday season
  • Business District Ambassadors
  • Adding Public Restrooms near homeless encampments
  • Investments to job training and resources

“My top priority is public safety, which means addressing violent crime, street safety, poverty, and homelessness,” said Thao.

“These budget amendments invest in our community and increase our Police Department’s ability to prevent and respond to violent crimes. These amendments will also protect our business corridors so Oaklanders can feel safe while they shop, and in turn, invest in our Oakland businesses.”

Said Oakland Police Chief LeRonne L. Armstrong, “I would like to thank Oakland City Council Member Sheng Thao and other Council Members for their vote and support with additional funding.

“These funds will provide walking officers in our business districts across the city during this holiday season. The funds allow us to restore much needed public safety services, walking officers, while our community and visitors shop across our city.”

Councilmember Thao’s amendments included direct investments in West, Central, and East Oakland, including West Oakland Community Centers, Central Oakland traffic safety, and Oakland 911 response.

“These amendments also help address decades of divestment from our BIPOC communities in East Oakland,” she said. “By bringing investments into street safety, beautification, and city services. It is important that we stay committed to equity for East Oakland.

“Our office made a point to work with Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, Councilmembers Treva Reid and Loren Taylor to bring these amendments forward, and I thank them for their strong partnership in this work,” said Councilmember Thao.


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