in the backpack

After restructuring its charter school, UFT reassures families

Students read books at the UFT Charter School, which narrowly escaped closure earlier this year. The struggling school explained some of its most recent changes, designed to boost student achievement, in a letter to parents today.

The UFT Charter School is reassuring families that a new round of changes will turn the tide at the long-struggling school, which is on the hook to improve test scores by 2015 or shut down forever.

In a letter sent home to families today, the president of the union-run school’s board explains that it consolidated its elementary and middle school over the summer in an effort to boost student performance in the middle grades. The board president, Evelyn DeJesus, also said that the high school’s first cohort posted a 93 percent graduation rate.

State authorizers were on the fence about continuing to allow the school to operate when its charter came up for renewal earlier this year. Committee members said the school’s middle grades did not deserve to stay open, but they said that closing the middle school would have left a “donut hole” between the higher-performing elementary school grades and the relatively new high school grades, where achievement was less clear.

Ultimately, they decided that the union’s plan to move the middle grades into the space that its elementary grades occupied within a district school building showed enough promise to give the school a short-term extension. (The plan drew protests from the district school.) But if the school’s overall performance, which has been weakest by far in the middle grades, does not improve by 2015, it will close.

The letter to families does not mention the consequences of not showing improvement. But it does say that while test scores in the elementary school were average or better for the district this year, “our middle school grades, however, have been a source of constant concern.”

Michelle Bodden-White, the UFT official who has led the elementary grades since the school opened in 2005, will now supervise the middle school, too, while another school official is taking over in the high school, according to the letter. The letter suggests that middle school families are also likely to be happier now that their children will not share space with older teenagers.

For the union, ensuring that its charter school survives is a high-stakes endeavor. Former UFT President Randi Weingarten opened the school in 2005 to pierce the argument that charter schools succeed because union contracts hold other schools back. But seven years into its existence, the nation’s first union-run school was one of the lowest-performing schools in the city, and its position did not improve when the state released its first round of scores from tests aligned to new Common Core standards this summer.

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.