Rudy Awakening

Chancellor's District architect says his school improvement model is "dead wrong"

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Former schools Chancellor Rudy Crew, second from right, expressed doubts about his old school-turnaround program on a recent panel.

The architect of the city’s “Chancellor’s District,” a school improvement initiative that flooded low-performing schools with resources over a decade ago, said Wednesday his much-debated approach was “dead wrong” and warned current officials not to repeat his mistakes.

From 1996 to 2003, New York City School Chancellor Rudy Crew grouped struggling schools into their own separate district and provided them with extra support, including new curriculum materials, more training, extra staff, and smaller class sizes. Union leaders have touted the program as an alternative to closing schools, but critics say more aggressive reforms are needed.

The initiative also shares similarities to the Renewal Schools program that Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday. The administration has distanced itself from those comparisons, but Crew said in an interview that they shared a lot in common.

“[De Blasio]’s changing the day, the year, the way teaching will be done,” Crew said in an interview. “We tried to do the same thing with the Chancellor’s District.”

Crew said those changes are important, but he offered a grim post-mortem 10 years after the district’s demise. Asked to assess the model on a panel on absenteeism at the New School on Thursday morning, he said the city school system wasn’t set up to fix persistently low-performing schools.

“When we did this in the Chancellor’s District, I think the framework is dead wrong,” said Crew. The structure, he said, was too one-size-fits-all.

“Everybody got the same memo, everybody got the same dollars, everybody got the same requirements and then you were sort of off to the races to do the best that you could with what you had,” Crew added.

While many details remain unclear, the de Blasio administration is asking schools to tailor their plans to meet students’ needs.

The $150 million plan will flood 94 of the city’s lowest-ranked schools with an array of social services and supports for students, a majority of whom are poor and many who live in homeless shelters, are part of the city’s child welfare system and come to school without getting basic needs met at home. Hoping to convert the schools into so-called community schools, each school is required to come up with its own plan, which also includes an extra hour of tutoring, summer programs and an increase in guidance counselors, health practitioners and adult literacy teachers. If schools don’t show progress in three years, de Blasio has said he’ll close them, though he hasn’t said how he will measure that progress.

Crew’s comments were delivered just a few feet from Deputy Mayor Richard Buery, who’s charged with making sure students who attend Renewal Schools benefit from the flood of services. Buery said the city’s initiative is uniquely challenging because each school will be have to create its own process for serving children and their families.

“Every school, every family, every child presents a unique set of challenges. And so the question, I think, at the school-level becomes, do you have an actual strategy and a structure, child by child?” Buery said.

After the event, Crew said the success of the city’s new approach will hinge on setting concrete goals and partnerships between schools and with outside organizations.

“What will be different is how they not just name it, but how they actually collaborate with these community agencies and how they come to agreement about what the targets, what the outcomes will be, for the expenditures they’ll be making,” Crew said.

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