theories of change

A charter school operator challenges Moskowitz on her approach

Steve Evangelista at his charter school, Harlem Link. (Photo courtesy of Evangelista)

Eva Moskowitz, the City Council member turned charter school operator, has for years been blunt about the forces that oppose her approach to improving education: other politicians, the city teachers union, and anyone else who has a stake in what she sees as the status quo. Last night, in a quiet conversation on 144th Street in Harlem, Moskowitz learned that she has a new critic, and he’s a little different from the others.

He’s Steve Evangelista, a Harlem charter school operator himself.

Evangelista approached Moskowitz with his concerns after a public hearing to discuss a Department of Education plan to install Moskowitz’s Harlem Success Academy 2 charter school inside a traditional public school building.

The Harlem Success school, along with another charter school that’s already in the building, would effectively replace P.S. 194, an elementary school whose low test scores and declining enrollment moved the DOE to phase it out of existence. The school has only 14 kindergartners this year, and about 70% of students in 194’s zone attend school somewhere else. The portion is even higher for kindergarten-aged students: 84%.

The swap reflects a goal that Chancellor Joel Klein and Moskowitz share: To replace district schools they consider failures with new, better schools — and to do so as quickly as possible. Moskowitz has set herself a goal of opening 40 charter schools in a decade.

Evangelista, who also runs a Harlem charter school, Harlem Link, came to watch the proceedings, and afterward he sought Moskowitz out to discuss her approach. When their conversation ended, he explained to me that his main concern is with Moskowitz’s dramatic ambitions. Aiming for such fast change requires her to adopt an antagonistic stance toward existing schools, he said. He worries that the attitude could ultimately doom her goal of improving public schools.

“I think it causes antagonism,” he said. “The district public schools are not the problem. The adults in those buildings work very hard. They’re responding to the system as it is.”

His approach to improving the system, he said, is to work together with traditional public schools. He tries to build collaborative relationships with the district schools whose space he shares, and he has also joined a network of district schools that meets regularly to share best practices. “I feel more confident that we can accomplish our less ambitious goals with our more collaborative approach than she can her more ambitious goals with her antagonistic approach,” he said.

Of Moskowitz’s approach, he added, “I have to question whether it’s going to work. It’s always been small coalitions that gather steam.”

Moskowitz’s counter-argument is that she has a “moral obligation” to act quickly. For more of her explanation, read this post, where I quote her more extensively.

Evangelista’s remarks came after a hearing that could be the start of a bitter battle between Moskowitz’s parents, who want the public school building for their school, and community members, some of whom are strongly opposing its move (which coincides with the DOE’s decision to shut down P.S. 194 entirely). Neighborhood members’ complaints that they didn’t get enough notice before last night’s hearing — it was announced Friday — are leading the entire hearing to be post-poned. Another will happen next week.

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