There is no shortage of sharp minds pondering how to properly serve students across our city. Aside from actual school operators and the Board of Education, policy organizations like TennesseeCAN (Tennessee Campaign for Achievement Now) are advocating on behalf of students and families. TennesseeCAN works to ensure that every Tennessee student has access to a high-quality education through great teachers and great schools. Though they are based in Nashville, they have staff in Memphis and are led by a former Memphis educator, Victor Evans.
Victor’s team works to meet the needs of students across TN, something that is especially difficult during this unusual year. We took a minute recently to get to know Victor and hear about TennesseeCAN’s work.
Q1: Victor - share a little bit about your personal background with education as well as Memphis---how did you come about caring so deeply about them both?
I come from a family of educators, so education has always been important to me. Also, I have classroom experience teaching in both public charter and private schools. As a former middle school teacher, it was so rewarding to see students grow and develop during some of their most formative years. As a graduate of Rhodes College for undergrad and of Christian Brothers University for graduate school, the city of Memphis has always been very near and dear to me.
Q2: TennesseeCAN is a very lean organization staffing wise. How does your work cover such a large area with so few staff?
Although our staff is small, our reach is big. We are constantly thinking of and implementing new ways to reach our audience of parents, teachers, and education leaders across the state. We do this through advocacy efforts including surveys, e-newsletters, social media, and more recently, Zoom sessions connecting state legislators with parents and educators in virtual town hall meetings. We also have strong support from our national organization, 50CAN.
Q3: How have partners adapted in various areas that will be beneficial to a Post-COVID environment?
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed some glaring weaknesses in our education system. So we went back to the drawing board and earlier this year, TennesseeCAN released a list of recommendations for how to quickly get ahead of and try to address the inevitable learning loss. TennesseeCAN’s national organization, 50CAN, released two different policy briefs to urgently support educators and policymakers. Our call is to measure everything and to fund everything to aggressively support students and families during this unprecedented time.
Q4: What ways is TennesseeCAN currently seeking to serve families in Memphis who are adapting to virtual learning?
Our Memphis field coordinator, Shelonda Richardson, has done an amazing job in convening a series of Virtual Parent Connection calls since schools closed in the spring. Topics have covered a wide array of education concerns, but they have also provided resources for parents as their children learn from home. State leaders, school leaders, teachers, educational experts, parents and community members have all joined the calls. The response to these has been strong, and we are glad to work with so many partners to support the Memphis community during this challenging time.
Q5: Back to your love of Memphis, when you're in town how do you best enjoy the city?
I have family in Memphis, and I always cherish the time that I spend with them, as well as friends from undergrad and grad school who live in Memphis. Whenever I am in the Bluff City, I always take time to enjoy the food, especially the BBQ. I brag to my colleagues from other states about the superiority of Memphis BBQ. By the way, Cozy Corner has the best ribs this side of heaven. As a Rhodes College alum, I often return to the college for sports and other alumni events. Until recently, I always enjoyed the Sunset Symphony but still attend the Beale Street Music Festival.
TennesseeCAN’s Call to Action:
Now more than ever, it’s time for parents and educators to be heard. TennesseeCAN wants to hear your ideas, priorities, and concerns, so they can be sure those are clearly communicated to state and local leaders. To share your story, click here: https://tn-can.org/take-action/tell-your-story/