on the street

In three boroughs, students and parents react to closure news

At 15 schools across the city today, administrators who had only just found out that their schools were slated to close broke the bad news to parents, teachers, and students. We stopped by schools in three boroughs to see how community members were responding.

Jane Addams High School for Academic Careers

Jane Addams High School for Academic Careers

Students at Jane Addams heard about the closure announcement either from their eighth-period teachers or from letters distributed by staff and DOE officials who were at the school before the 2:20 p.m. dismissal.

A school staff member said teachers were staying late to meet with administrators and union officials but that few were surprised by today’s news.

“We had a meeting a month earlier, so we were kind of expecting it.” she said, referring to the early engagement meetings the DOE has held at each of the 47 schools it considered for closure.

Since then, Jane Addams has been mired in a massive crediting scandal, first reported by the Daily News, that could threaten graduation for hundreds of students.

Students today said they were worried how the closure decision would affect their credits. But they were divided about whether the school deserved its fate.

“We don’t learn in our school. We barely do anything,” said ninth-grader Myasia Irons. “We don’t have Spanish classes, we don’t have health classes. I might transfer.”

But a sophomore said he thought Jane Addams’s problems wouldn’t be solved by closing its doors.

“I believe it’s only failing because when they closed the other big schools in the zone they started sending the kids here,” he said, echoing a frequent critique of school closures.

And students had good things to say about the school’s under-fire principal, Sharron Smalls. Senior Tanay Carr said Smalls let her stay in the principal’s office to avoid fights, even after she was suspended several times. Another student told GothamSchools, “She’s like a mother to me.” And a ninth-grader said emphatically, “She’s a good principal. Leave her alone!”

Manhattan Theatre Lab High School

Most students pouring out of the Martin Luther King campus near Lincoln Center had no idea that one of the six schools in the building had been slated for closure. But students from Manhattan Theatre Lab, housed in the basement, said they were told during an eighth-period, whole-school meeting that school might be closed and a final decision would be made in February.

“It’s kind of a shocker,” said a ninth-grader. “This is my first year at this school and it’s surprising that they’re talking about it being shut down.”

Under the watchful eye of a dean who asked us to leave the campus, a senior told GothamSchools that she thought the reason for closure might be that it’s hard for people to graduate on time.

“Everyone is doing what they’re supposed to be doing and it’s not fair,” the senior said.

Legacy Integrated High School

Long after school hours had ended, students continued to straggle out of Legacy’s building near Union Square in Manhattan. They reported that they had been called into an assembly and told that the school would close.

Alicia Solis, a ninth-grader, said she was happy with the school because she thought she was getting the classes she needed to advance and because there is little fighting.

“We’re all doing everything we’re supposed to,” she said, surprised that the school’s efforts had been identified as falling short.

P.S. 161, The Crown School

Once a top choice for Crown Heights families, P.S. 161 has had a rough patch in recent years, posting low progress report scores. Today, the DOE announced that it would cut the middle school grades but leave the elementary school open.

Parents of elementary school students said they didn’t know how the middle school performed.

“Since my children aren’t there yet, I’m not sure what kind school it is,” said Katherine Seward, who has children in kindergarten and third grade.

But she said she was aware that both schools had been struggling.

“We can do more to improve,” Seward said.

Another elementary school parent, who declined to give her name, said she was not concerned the middle school was closing.

“I doubt I’ll even be living in New York by the time he’s in middle school,” the mother said. She said she planned to move in part because the city is too expensive and in part because she was looking for better schools.

 

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