changing tides

College Board ends school-support program amid shifting goals

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The College Board’s website still features the College Board Schools program, which ended after the last school year amid the group’s evolving priorities. About a dozen city schools lost support and funding due to the shift.

At the Preparatory Academy for Writers in Queens, being a College Board School meant tablet computers for students and weekend visits to Boston’s elite universities.

For Palisade Preparatory School in Yonkers, just north of New York City, a partnership with the maker of the SATs and the Advanced Placement program meant top-notch teacher training and a chance to collaborate with educators from the city — not to mention the iPads and college visits.

And at South Bronx Preparatory, the fact that a national organization had helped found their small school sparked pride in their alma mater.

“When kids say, ‘a College Board School,’ they feel something,” said South Bronx Prep Principal Ellen Flanagan.

Then, in June, the nearly decade-old College Board Schools program was quietly canceled. The schools lost the support and funding that they had been getting, in some cases since 2004.

“I feel like we’ve been thrown away and abandoned,” said Cynthia Schneider, principal of a former College Board School in Queens, World Journalism Preparatory.

The dozen city schools that had been part of the program, as well as schools upstate and in Baltimore, learned about the change in a June 3 letter from the program director, Helen Santiago.

Santiago explained that the College Board had “not been able to find a way to effectively deliver on the promise of this program at scale” and asked the schools to stop identifying themselves as College Board Schools. “The term no longer carries the meaning it once did,” she wrote.

The shuttering of the schools program came nearly a year into new leadership at the College Board. David Coleman, a former McKinsey & Company consultant and a chief craftsman of the Common Core standards, which New York and 45 other states have adopted, took over the test-making company in 2012. He said his focus would be on boosting equity and achievement in all grades, rather than simply on the college admissions process for which the College Board had become known.

In May, the organization laid off more than 100 employees as it restructured to reflect the new priorities.

John McGrath, the College Board’s vice president of communications, said the schools program had run its course and the organization had decided to invest its resources elsewhere.

“We have to make difficult resource-allocation decisions everyday,” McGrath said. “In the case of this program, we fulfilled the obligation we set out to do.”

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South Bronx Prep advertised its College Board affiliation on T-shirts. Now that the College Board has ended its schools program, the school has been told to stop advertising the relationship.

The College Board Schools program launched in 2004 to help districts create small middle schools and high schools that would push students to college. It began with grant money from the Gates Foundation — at the time a major sponsor of small schools — and later received Dell Foundation funds.

Eventually, 20 College Board Schools opened in New York, Maryland and Colorado. (West Leadership Academy in Denver is the only school still affiliated with the program, since it recently opened and remains under contract with the College Board.)

College Board staff were deeply involved in the schools’ design, going so far as help hand pick some school personnel, principals said.

They also offered coaching, leadership retreats and data-tracking support to the schools’ teachers and administrators, and helped them provide SAT prep, college counseling and intensive advisory sessions for students.

And then there was the money: $100,000 per school in few-strings-attached funding for their initial start-up years, then thousands more in later years, which could go towards technology, teacher training, college visits and more, according to principals.

“It really was a fantastic partnership,” said Palisade Prep Principal Michelle Yazurlo.

Still, the schools occasionally questioned parts of the program, as well as the College Board’s role in it.

The schools were encouraged to buy and adopt College Board’s academic curriculum, SpringBoard, even though some found it lacking, according to three principals.

And when one College Board-founded school, the Prep Academy for Writers, started to flounder, the program pulled out – until a new principal arrived and turned around the school, after which the program returned, according to the school’s current principal, Charles Anderson.

“The teachers here don’t think of the College Board as a support organization,” Anderson said. “They think of it more as the bad guy sometimes.”

Anderson and other principals speculated that the College Board’s decision to end the schools program was motivated by money.

“Once the [grant] funding went away, it seemed like the College Board didn’t have a huge stake in it,” Anderson said. “It was never really a financial [asset] for them.”

Schneider said she suspected that under Coleman, the College Board’s focus was narrowing to its most lucrative, marquee products – namely, its tests and AP program. “What they’re changing it up for is products and money,” she said.

A former College Board official, who asked to remain anonymous because the official was not authorized to speak about the program publicly, said that while the organization always keeps one eye on revenue, its decision in this case likely had more to do with impact.

“It was a lot of money invested in just a tiny number of schools,” the official said. “It makes sense for the College Board to focus on broader ways to have an impact on more children.”

Whatever its motives, the College Board’s decision has left a void at the schools.

Gone are the quarterly school counselor meetings at the College Board headquarters, the hands-on “implementation managers,” the brand-name partnership.

Without the funding, Anderson’s students take one-day trips to upstate New York or New Jersey schools, rather than weekend excursions to Massachusetts colleges.

South Bronx Prep’s Flanagan said she would “scrap around” to find the college-visit money – perhaps by postponing plans for a new Smart Board or laptop cart.

What really bothers her, she said, is the broken relationship between the College Board and her school.

“Our kids experience a lot of loss,” she said. “This is one more loss.”

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