all talk

City picks 71 struggling schools for lower-stakes discussions

City officials listen to students at Lehman High School describe the school’s struggles last year at an “early engagement” meeting. This year’s meetings will have a different tone because closure is not a possible outcome.

Sustaining an annual tradition, Department of Education officials will hold meetings with teachers, parents, and students at 71 low-performing schools in the coming weeks.

But with the department’s leadership set to change over when Bill de Blasio becomes mayor Jan. 1, the meetings are not a prelude to a round of school closure announcements, as they were in the past. Instead, they’ll be used to develop plans to help the schools get better, as de Blasio has said should be the response to low performance in almost all cases.

The Bloomberg administration’s strategy for improving the school system has rested heavily on closing struggling schools and opening new schools in their place. That strategy drew fire from school communities that said the city had not tried to fix the schools before closing them.

Responding to that criticism, the city began holding “early engagement” meetings at schools with low scores several years ago to show communities that it had considered their explanations for their poor performance before making closure decisions. It also began creating “targeted action plans” for the schools it decided not to close.

The “early engagement” terminology is gone this year, reflecting the gentler approach to school improvement that the department is cultivating as the Bloomberg era of school reform comes to a close. Now, the meetings are being billed as “conversations with struggling schools” as a way to figure out what they need to improve.

“Avoiding a one-size-fits-all model, we’ve differentiated our supports and interventions because each school is different,” Deputy Chancellor Saskia Levy Thompson said in a statement. “Today, we’re beginning that listening process again to determine what these schools do well, identify areas for improvement, and develop a unique action plan for each school.”

Several times this week, department officials have touted a new statistic: Of the schools that developed targeted action plans in the past two years, more than three quarters saw their annual letter grade improve, and 40 percent gained two or more letter grades.

Levy Thompson said the 71 schools chosen for the meetings, which will begin shortly, are both in the bottom 15 percent of schools citywide on this year’s progress reports and are seen within the department as not being on track to get better.

The schools include Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn, which received its third straight F this year, but not Dewitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, the other school to extend the same unprecedented spree. A former top department official became Clinton’s principal this year.

The list also includes three schools that until this year received support from the College Board. The nonprofit cited shifting organizational priorities when it withdrew its support this year, but it had previously pulled aid from one school when it began to struggle.

And it includes a few schools saved from closure in the past, including Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing and Visual Arts, which kept its middle school open after powerful politicians came to its aid, and Bushwick Community High School, a transfer school that the department removed from a list of schools facing “turnaround” last year.

The full list of schools that will hold community meetings in the coming weeks is below:

Manhattan:
P.S. 137 John L. Bernstein
Henry Street School for International Studies
Marta Valle High School
P.S. 198 Isador E. Ida Straus
Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers
Independence High School
P.S. 145, The Bloomingdale School
Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing & Visual Arts
Coalition School for Social Change
Isaac Newton Middle School for Math & Science
P.S. 123 Mahalia Jackson
P.S. 194 Countee Cullen
P.S. 200 The James Mccune Smith School
Academy for Social Action: A College Board School
Frederick Douglass Academy
P.S. 132 Juan Pablo Duarte
P.S. 152 Dyckman Valley
High School for Health Careers and Sciences

Bronx:
J.H.S. 162 Lola Rodriguez De Tio
Foreign Language Academy of Global Studies
P.S. 146 Edward Collins
M.S. 301 Paul L. Dunbar
Holcombe L. Rucker School of Community Research
Felisa Rincon de Gautier Institute for Law and Public Policy
Banana Kelly High School
P.S. 070 Max Schoenfeld
P.S. 073 Bronx
P.S. 126 Dr Marjorie H Dunbar
I.S. 313 School of Leadership Development
New Millennium Business Academy Middle School
Bronx High School of Business
Thomas C. Giordano Middle School 45
P.S. 021 Philip H. Sheridan
P.S. 112 Bronxwood
School of Diplomacy
P.S. 092 Bronx
P.S. 195
P.S. 212
Peace and Diversity Academy
Bronx Regional High School

Brooklyn:
P.S. 067 Charles A. Dorsey
M.S. 113 Ronald Edmonds Learning Center
P.S. 305 Dr. Peter Ray Brooklyn ElementaryFoundations Academy
School for Legal Studies
Automotive High School
P.S. 309 The George E. Wibecan Preparatory Academy
Boys and Girls High School
W.E.B. Dubois Academic High School
The High School for Global Citizenship
School for Democracy and Leadership
P.S. 114 Ryder Elementary
Olympus Academy
P.S. 202 Ernest S. Jenkyns
P.S. 306 Ethan Allen
Multicultural High School
I. S. 381
P.S. 165 Ida Posner
P.S. 327 Dr. Rose B. English
Brooklyn Collegiate: A College Board School Brooklyn Secondary
Mott Hall IV
I.S. 347 School of Humanities
P.S. 377 Alejandrina B. De Gautier
Bushwick Community High School

Queens:
Pan American International High School
J.H.S. 226 Virgil I. Grissom
Frederick Douglass Academy VI High School
Richmond Hill High School
John Adams High School
PS/MS 147 Ronald McNair
Pathways College Preparatory School: A College Board School

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