Colorado

Former Manual assistant principal speaks out after losing his job

Manual High School assistant principal Vernon Jones was caught by surprise yesterday by the decision not to renew his contract for next school year, he said in a statement released today.

I should have listened to the rumors,” he said. In it, Jones signals his intentions to remain involved in the battle over what Manual’s future will look like.

His departure from the school sparked outcry in the Manual and northeast Denver community. A community meeting organized by Manual students is planned for 2 p.m. today at a library near Manual High School.

This action, and any intended action against Pastor Vernon Jones will NOT go unchallenged,” said one community member in an email forwarded to Chalkbeat Colorado. Jones was previously the pastor at Kinship Missionary Baptist Church in Aurora and is known by community and students as “Pastor Jones” or “P. Jones.”

The decision has some parents rethinking whether they’ll stay with the school, which has struggled with low performance and turbulent changes in leadership. District officials have already expressed concern about dropping enrollment at the school, where only 75 freshmen are expected to enroll next fall.

“Pulling him out, that takes away our connection to the community,” said Pauletta Anderson, whose daughter attends Manual.

Chalkbeat also obtained the announcement Manual principal Don Roy sent to staff that Jones would not be returning. In it, Roy acknowledges the central role Jones played in rallying community members around the school but gives few details on the rationale behind his decision.

“I made this decision after careful deliberation and evaluation,” Roy wrote. “I determined that we needed different leadership in the Assistant Principal role for the upcoming school year.”

The school has two other assistant principals who have been brought on in the past months since Roy took the reins at the school.

Here is the full text of the email:

From: Roy, Don
Sent: Wednesday, June 04, 2014 12:18 PM
To: Manual High Faculty
Subject: Leadership team

Teachers and Staff,

I have decided not to renew Assistant Principal Vernon Jones’ contract for the 2014-15 school year. I made this decision after careful deliberation and evaluation, and I determined that we needed different leadership in the Assistant Principal role for the upcoming school year.

I know that Mr. Jones has been a part of the Manual community for a number of years, and that many of our students, teachers and families have strong relationships with him. My door is open to anyone who has questions or concerns about this decision. I am limited in what I am able to discuss when it comes to personnel decisions, but I will do my best to answer any questions you may have.

Thank you for your continued support and engagement in the Manual community.

Regards,

Donald Roy

Principal
Manual High School
I am from Rochester, New York, and I play on TEAM DPS!
720-423-6300

And below is Jones’ full statement:

“I spoke truth to power in a very passionate way during a community meeting and from that moment Mr. Roy began to see me as not a fit for his team. I have been placed on administrative leave and he has recommended to the DPS board that my administrative contract at Manual High School not be renewed for the 2014-2015 school year. This action did not surprise me but it saddens me because of my eight year commitment to advocating with and for scholars, colleagues, and my community, in a number of positions related to Manual. I had heard whispers within the building and from external colleagues that this was coming but after an earlier face to face meeting with Mr. Roy on May 27 I dismissed them because I trusted that we had come to an understanding and were moving forward as a team. I should have listened to the rumors. I remain resolute in my solidarity with the Manual scholars, staff, parents, and community. Our desire to self-determine, to walk and act TBOLT STRONG, remains. Still WE RISE! I remain a Manual parent and my responsibility to advocate for my children and their peers is still mine and is not dictated by one person’s opinion of my leadership fit. My heart aches but I am not deterred.”

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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