listening tour

Meeting with parents, Walcott gets feedback and asks for more

Chancellor Dennis Walcott met with parent coordinators and leaders of Parent Teacher Associations yesterday.

Chancellor Dennis Walcott met the parents last night at a panel session with PTA leaders and parent coordinators that gave him a chance to demonstrate his oft-stated commitment to community outreach.

Walcott also previewed a new survey, called the Chancellor’s Family Feedback Form, that he said will be released later this month.

A flier handed out to parents describes the survey as an opportunity to “Tell us what information about your child is important to you and how you’d like to get it.” The flier advertises a web site for the survey,, which is not yet live.

Asked for more detailed information, a Department of Education spokeswoman said that the survey is still being developed.

The announcement came as several attendees complained to Walcott about the challenges of getting a response from school officials. “What resources do parents have when principals don’t respond?” one woman said.

“What’s the chain of command here if we have a problem?” asked another attendee.

Hundreds of PTA officials and parent coordinators, the paid city employees who work at every school to share information with parents, attended the meeting, which was Walcott’s first citywide meeting with parent groups.

Walcott conducted the meeting in what he called his “Oprah” mode, walking through the audience with a microphone and facilitating a discussion about strategies to involve parents in schools.

Ideas ranged from offering babysitting services during PTA meetings to weekly coffee events to give parents casual opportunities to talk to each other and to school staff members.

Walcott also laid out the city’s vision for how it plans to roll out the new Common Core curriculum standards, which will hit more schools next year. “We want to make sure you have a clear sense of what we’re talking about,” Walcott said.

After the meeting, Steve Matsil, the PTA president of I.S.223 in Brooklyn, said that he was dissatisfied. “I haven’t heard anything tonight,” he said. “These ideas are not going to apply to my school. Our population is mostly immigrants.”

Another parent, Cheryl Smith, who is the treasurer of the P.S. 189 PTA in the Bronx, said that Walcott’s interest in involving parents seemed genuine, and she praised the event. “In terms of getting new ideas, it was great,” she said.

She added that the meeting compared favorably to one that she attended with former chancellor Cathie Black. “That was very disappointing. With him, he was more prepared,” Smith said.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.