Colorado

Wednesday churn: Westwood on probation

Updated 10 a.m.The Colorado Commission on Higher Education has placed Westwood College on probationary accreditation because the college is on probation with a national accreditation group.

While the Tuesday action doesn’t affect the for-profit college’s ability to enroll, teach and graduate students, some commissionners and Department of Education staffers felt that action necessary to inform students and potential students about the college. (See staff briefing paper.)

Westwood is a career, business and technical school with two campuses in Denver. In September its north campus was placed on probation by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.

That agency concluded Westwood needed to properly demonstrate student achievement, show that it has proper management and administrative procedures, provide its policy for handling complaints, comply with standards for student recruiting and demonstrate it has the administrative capacity and procedures to meet accreditation requirements.

State law allows the CCHE to put an institution on probation if it has been placed in that status by an accrediting agency. The agency reconsidered the Westwood case in November and decided to keep the institution on probation because it hadn’t provided adequate documentation on student achievement outcomes.

The CCHE delayed action on Westwood at both its Oct. 7 and Dec. 2 meetings because commissioners wanted to see what the accrediting commission would do. Mike Feeley, a lobbyist for Westwood, had urged the state delay until after the commission had acted.

For-profit colleges have been under congressional, regulator and media scrutiny for months because of problems with high-pressure student recruitment, low graduation rates, high levels of student loan defaults and other issues.

(See story about October CCHE discussion of Westwood.)

Daily Churn logoHigher education employees who are covered by the Public Employees’ Retirement Association could continue contributing a bigger chunk of their pay to the pension system, if legislators take up a recommendation by outgoing Gov. Bill Ritter.

This issue came up Tuesday during a Joint Budget Committee staff briefing on the state Department of Personnel and Administration’s 2011-12 budget. Earlier this year, legislators passed a law that increased employee pension contributions to 10.5 percent of salary, up from 8 percent. The state’s contribution was cut to 7.65 percent from 10.15 percent. Total contributions to the pension program were the same, but the move was made to help balance the state’s 2010-11 budget. (Both the state and employees also pay additional, “supplemental” contributions.)

The Ritter administration has proposed that the shift continue in 2011-12, but that will require legislative approval next year. The move would cover only the 57,000-some employees in PERA’s State Division, which includes 23,394 higher ed employees. Members of PERA’s Schools and DPS divisions, which include teachers, would not be affected.

Depending on what the legislature does, continuation of the policy also could affect overall state support of colleges and universities. This year, because federal stimulus rules required a minimum state level of higher ed support, colleges and universities got to keep the money that was saved by reduction of the employer pension contribution. Those federal rules don’t apply in 2011-12. So, if the legislature continues the lower employer contribution, the higher ed system could face a cut of $18 million.

(See pages 22-24 of the JBC staff briefing paper for details on this issue.)

Stand for Children, an education advocacy group, has announced a contest to recognize and reward outstanding teachers. Dubbed “Our Heroes,” the contest will award $1,000 each to up to 10 public school teachers. You can get more information and make nominations on Stand’s website. The effort is supported by the Daniels Fund. Winners will be chosen by a panel including current and former teachers and announced Jan. 17.

What’s on tap:

The Average Daily Membership Advisory Committee holds its second meeting from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Colorado Association of S chool Boards, 1200 Grant St. (more information about meeting and background story).

The Adams 12 Five Star school board convenes at 7 p.m. in the Aspen Room of the Educational Services Center, 1500 E. 128th Ave. in Thornton. The board’s agenda includes a public hearing on a disputed site development plan from Prospect Ridge Academy charter school. The school’s charter was initially denied by the Adams 12 board but that denial was later overruled by the State Board of Education. Tonight, Broomfield city officials will present their concerns about the charter site, followed by a presentation from charter officials and public comment.

Good reads from elsewhere:

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