Thursday Churn: New start date?

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

A potential new start date for the Denver Public Schools will be under discussion today as a task force examining the feasibility of a later kickoff to the school year prepares its findings, which will be presented to school board members on Monday.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg has said he was open to a discussion about revising the calendar following an unusually hot August. This year some schools started Aug. 10 and the rest on Aug. 18. The hot spell, combined with the fact that many classrooms lack air conditioning, caused several students and staff to be treated for heat-related illnesses.

DPS launched the task force in October, and that group held a series of public meetings throughout the district in November. It also sponsored a public survey in English and Spanish.

Denver’s Get Smart Schools is celebrating after being recognized as one of the country’s six top charter incubators, according to a report released Wednesday by Public Impact. The report, Better Choices: Charter Incubation as a Strategy for Improving the Charter School Sector, was prepared by Public Impact for the Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

The report focuses on “incubation” as a key strategy in improving the nation’s charter schools, defining the term as “the strategic recruitment, selection, and training of promising leaders, and the support of those leaders as they launch or expand new charter schools in cities or specific geographic regions.” Get Smart Schools, founded in Denver in 2008, has goals of preparing 85 new school leaders by 2020 and creating more than 50 new autonomous schools in that same time.

“I think we’re really honored to be included in the company of organizations such as New Schools and the Mind Trust, which we think are really well-established, promising organizations,” said Amy Slothower, executive director of Get Smart Schools. “It’s exciting for us to be presented as peers.”

Read the full report here.

The Board of Governors of the Colorado State University System approved a $124.5 million bond package that includes upgrades to classroom and learning facilities for students in agriculture; a new, state-of-the-art undergraduate housing facility for more than 600 students, and renovation of the 50-year-old Lory Student Center.

Students have voted to increase their fees to pay for the majority of the Lory renovation, and students who live in the new housing development will pay for that facility. The total bond package approved Wednesday includes:

  • $7.5 million for a partial renovation of the Animal Sciences Building to prepare the building for future expansion and enhancement
  • $60 million for the student center renovation
  • $57 million for the new housing development and renovation of the existing Durrell Center

More detail is available on the CSU web site here.

Good reads from elsewhere:

Harrison Superintendent Mike Miles has been named Colorado Springs’ “Civic Innovator of the Year.” The Center for the Study of Government and the Individual each year honors community members who have made a difference in Colorado Springs. Story

“The Middle School Freak Out” is the annual hunt by parents looking for the best educational options for their children. Colorado Public Radio reporter Jenny Brundin visited the Denver Expo, where middle and high schools could showcase their education wares and hand out “schwag” meant to entice conversations and sell their programs. Story

The Colorado Association of School Boards annual convention at The Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs regularly raises questions about the appropriateness of such a plush setting in tight budget times. This year, the controversy is brewing in Greeley. 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.

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