Borough Bosses

Fariña names seven powerful new leaders of borough support centers

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer
Chancellor Fariña speaking at P.S. 503, whose principal Bernadette Fitzgerald will lead one of the Brooklyn field support centers.

Updated 4:55 p.m. — The city has hired the powerful directors of the new support centers that will soon help schools with every part of their work, from hiring and training staffers to handling safety issues, officials announced Monday.

The directors will manage seven new “borough field support centers,” which Chancellor Carmen Fariña created this year to replace a system of about 55 school-support networks. The new hires, who start training this week, include leaders of the old support networks, current education department officials, a Brooklyn principal, and a Boston school official.

They will work within a new Office of Field Support under just-appointed Senior Executive Director Mariano Guzmán, an advisor to the chancellor and a former superintendent. Guzmán ran one of the centers that provided operational support to schools for a time under the previous administration, and was a candidate to become chancellor in the 1990s.

With starting salaries of $138,000, five to six deputies, and staffs likely to number in the dozens, the directors will play a crucial role in making sure the city’s 1,600 district schools get the support they need. And they must begin to do all of that on a tight timeline: The new centers must be fully staffed and operational by this summer, ready to help schools start next academic year under a completely new support system.

“I am thrilled to welcome these seven dedicated, talented educators to their new positions as borough field support center directors and Mariano Guzmán as senior executive director of field support,” Fariña said in a statement, adding that the directors will coordinate with newly empowered superintendents. “I am confident in these leaders’ ability to work closely with superintendents, schools, and DOE leadership as we work to make New York City the best urban school district in the nation.”

One of the directors’ most pressing tasks will be to hire the support center staff members who will help schools with classroom matters, hiring and budgets, health and safety issues, and providing services for English learners and students with disabilities. Hundreds of network employees currently do that work, and they have been told by department officials that they will be able to find positions at the new centers, according to network sources.

However, it is still unclear how the hiring process will work. Fariña has said that one of the purposes of the school-support overhaul was to make sure that all schools have equal access to high-quality resources and specialists. But the city has not said whether it will oversee the hiring process to make sure the directors are not competing for the most experienced and effective staffers.

“Is it going to be a free-for-all, or will there be a system?” one network employee asked soon after the new structure was announced. “Will the borough directors be working together, or will they throw their lassos out in any direction they want to?”

An education department spokeswoman said the agency would provide guidance during the hiring process, but that directors will make the final decisions. She did not provide an estimate of how many staffers each director will bring on, but said the size of their teams will depend on the needs of the schools they serve.

The new directors include: Yuet Chu, a network leader who will oversee Manhattan’s support center; Lawrence Pendergast and Marlene Wilks, network chiefs who will lead Queens’ two centers; Jose Ruiz, who oversaw several networks as a “cluster” leader and will direct the Bronx center; Bernadette Fitzgerald, the principal of P.S. 503 in Sunset Park, and Cheryl Watson-Harris, a senior Boston education department official and former Brooklyn principal, who will lead that borough’s pair of centers; and Kevin Moran, a department official who oversees school operations, who will direct Staten Island’s center.

The city is still figuring out where to put the new directors and their teams. One idea is to house them in the same buildings as the borough enrollment centers, which is where the superintendents and their small teams will now work, city officials said last month.

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

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