he said/he said

Principals union chief lambastes city's school closure strategy

Among the press releases that went flying after the city announced its first set of school closures earlier today, the one from principals union president Ernest Logan stood out for its stridency.

In a statement the length of a short essay, Logan decried school closures as “a losing strategy” that traumatizes needy students, shuts out educators, and prevents scrutiny of the city’s reform efforts. Adding eight months to mayoral control’s age, he said twice that the Bloomberg administration has had a decade to fix all schools but has not.

Nine of the 15 schools whose closures or truncations were announced today have opened since Mayor Bloomberg took control of the schools; one replaced a failing elementary school just three years ago. Logan suggested that at least two additional Bloomberg-started schools would show up on the second installment of the closure roster when it comes out tomorrow.

“The fact is that closure is an admission of failure by City Hall, whose weak or non-existent interventions amount to either a cynical statement of indifference to children of poverty or an inferiority complex about their own ability to come up with solutions,” Logan said.

The statement elicited a rebuttal from Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who called Logan’s statement “embarrassing” for the union.

“Real leadership is standing up and saying that we’re not going to leave students in failing schools,” Walcott said. “It’s embarrassing that the union representing the leaders of our schools — our principals — is more focused on making excuses and pointing fingers than on doing what is best for students. We hold all of our schools, new or old, to the same high standards.”

The policy got backup from Joe Williams, head of the nonprofit Democrats for Education Reform, which generally supports Bloomberg’s education policies. Williams called the practice of closing struggling schools and opening new ones to take their place is the mayor’s “crowning achievement.”

“These are schools that simply aren’t worthy of Gotham’s schoolchildren,” Williams said in a statement. “We applaud the mayor for resisting intense pressure to not rock the boat and make things as comfortable as possible for adults in the system, as our children are cast adrift.”

But in his statement, Williams did tread some common ground with Logan and other critics of the closures, including UFT President Michael Mulgrew and the nonprofit Coalition for Educational Justice.

“The mayor’s education legacy hangs in the balance here,” Williams said.

Here’s Logan’s statement in full:

Yesterday evening, Deputy Chancellor of Portfolio Planning Marc Sternberg announced to the press the pending closure of 25 more struggling schools. This is in addition to the 117 the DOE has already closed since Mayor Bloomberg took over the school system more than ten years ago.

Those opened under Bloomberg have been touted by Sternberg ‘as better than those they replaced.’  Tweed’s own failed schools number in the double digits, although the DOE sheepishly avoids making public an exact number. But in today’s and tomorrow’s round of closings alone, 11 schools were opened during the Bloomberg administration.

The NYC public school system is not a place for whimsical experiment where we open and close schools for students who have already been traumatized by previous school closings. Then, there is the tragedy of all the young people who have not been saved even briefly by the city’s new-school safety net, but have been turned away from new schools for reasons of poor academic achievement and sent to be warehoused in other low-performing schools slated for the scrapheap.

Bloomberg’s DOE has come up with a losing strategy for turning around low- performing schools, which are invariably attended by children of color from economically disadvantaged communities. That strategy includes rejecting most offers of collaboration from experienced educators and relying instead on theories hatched in ivy halls. The endgame of the strategy is to eliminate schools that the administration has had at least a decade to fix and to improve its data by creating new schools that won’t have data for as long as four years. The fact is that closure is an admission of failure by City Hall, whose weak or non-existent interventions amount to either a cynical statement of indifference to children of poverty or an inferiority complex about their own ability to come up with solutions.

The Bloomberg administration needs to take more responsibility, not less, for schools that are not doing well, rather than turning them over to private entities like EPOs or closing them and washing their hands of a deep-rooted problem that it has been unsuccessful in remedying.

CSA is mindful of Tweed’s lack of support for Principals and APs, how little it cares about the opinions of educators in the front lines and how the entire system of local superintendent support has been eviscerated so that control can be consolidated centrally.”

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