MDN: Seeing Needs Beyond Good Teachers, Teacher Town Memphis Changes its Approach and Name
A Memphis philanthropic collaborative is revising its public image as its leaders rethink the ways they want to help the city’s schools change.
Teacher Town is becoming the Memphis Education Fund and adopting the goal of improving the lowest-scoring 10 percent of schools in the city, the group announced this month.
The collaborative was created in 2014 by Memphis education leaders with local philanthropists. The goal was to transform Memphis into a destination city for talented teachers, a vision that built on a major investment by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve teaching in the city.
But as those efforts unfolded, Teacher Town leaders realized that hiring and training new teachers alone would not transform local schools.
In response, the group decided to broaden its causes to include training principals, supporting Shelby County Schools’ efforts to improve some of the district’s lowest-performing schools, and engaging the community in school improvement efforts.
Now, the fund is in the middle of spending $10 million to help Shelby County Schools overhaul struggling schools through its Innovation Zone. It’s also giving money to help schools in the state-run Achievement School District serve students with disabilities.
Other grants have gone to organizations that help to train principals or work to engage families in school improvement efforts. The fund’s website lists 22 local and national organizations receiving support, including the parent organizing groups Memphis Lift and Stand for Children Tennessee.
Rather than holding money on its own, the fund identifies grantees and then works with donors to support them directly. The money is managed by the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, a nonprofit organization overseeing about a thousand charitable funds.
A 2014 report in The Stanford Social Innovation Review lists three of the city’s leading philanthropies — the Hyde Family, Poplar and Pyramid Peak foundations — among the fund’s founders. The organization does not publish a list of its current donors, some of whom prefer to remain anonymous, Robinson said.
Similar funds in other cities sometimes take a narrower approach. Chicago’s education fund tackles one issue at a time, right now focusing on issues related to principals, for example. Memphis is trying to tackle multiple issues at one time, Robinson said.