standing right here

Council members unite to defend city teachers against criticism

City Councilman Fernando Cabrera speaks at a press conference defending teachers outside City Hall today.

The best antidote to teacher-bashing, according to City Councilman Fernando Cabrera, is being a teacher.

At a press conference today to criticize the release of teachers’ ratings and the tone Mayor Bloomberg has set recently when talking about city teachers, Cabrera suggested that Bloomberg take over a classroom for a week.

“I guarantee he’ll get his attitude well changed,” said Cabrera, who said his son is studying to become a special education teacher but fears that the city’s administration “doesn’t believe in teachers.”

Cabrera was unusual in suggesting that anything could be done to alter the mayor’s attitude. Steven Levin, the Brooklyn councilman who organized the event, said council members would support and honor teachers but suggested that the real change would come later — perhaps after Bloomberg leaves office in 2013.

“Hold on. Hold on, because we’ve got your back,” Levin said. “We’ll see this through — but you’ve just got to hold on.”

Levin was joined by nearly a dozen members of the council’s progressive caucus, Comptroller John Liu, several teachers, and UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who said, “The teachers of New York are feeling the love, and this is what they should be feeling.”

Dominic Recchia, a council member from Brooklyn who does not typically align himself with the progressive members, also spoke, saying his phone had been ringing nonstop with teachers who disputed their city ratings, which were based completely on student test scores.

“The best evaluation is to go into a classroom and see what the teacher is doing day in and day out,” he said.

The ratings’ release two weeks ago ignited fierce debate about whether personnel evaluations should be made public — and generated near-perfect consensus that they should not be. Bloomberg himself has been a lone defender of the release, a position he reiterated on Wednesday when signing into law a City Council bill that requires more city data to be made public.

Levin and several other council members who appeared at the press conference today had sponsored that bill. But Levin told me today that the goal of government transparency is not to bring the personal lives of city workers into public debate and that he thought teacher ratings of the type the city generated would not fall under the law’s requirements.

“What we’ve seen here is not a question of government data. It’s a question of erroneous data — bad data being used as a political weapon,” he said.

But Levin said he could imagine ratings based on a system that the city and teachers union mutually accept being fair game for release. “If you have a fair evaluation system that everyone has agreed on and can be appealed, then it’s a discussion you can have,” he said.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education 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.