reaching out

Memo offers early glimpse at charter leaders' efforts to work with de Blasio

Some charter school leaders are taking a quieter approach to lobbying the de Blasio administration. Here, posters from a charter schools rally in October.

A group of charter school leaders eager to get along with the Bill de Blasio administration are working behind the scenes to address concerns raised by the mayor.

They have drafted a framework for how the charter sector can work within the education agenda laid out by de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who have each criticized some charter schools. In the framework, obtained by Chalkbeat, the leaders cast themselves as progressive and say they are committed to serving more high-needs children, collaborating with district schools, and lobbying the state for more facilities funding.

“New city policies affecting charter schools should promote partnership and the administration’s progressive values,” it says.

The framework also states that charter schools should be held accountable for serving students at risk of academic failure, implying support for new enrollment rules. Those could involve new requirements for backfill, or whether students who leave a school are replaced with new students. Charter schools aren’t required to fill those seats: some don’t at all, and some restrict the grade levels at which they do.

Fariña has the authority to require schools to accept enrollment rules in order to operate in public space, though she has control over few other aspects of charter school governance.

The lobbying memo is the clearest look yet at how one chunk of the charter school sector is hoping to work with de Blasio, who has been a vocal critic of charter schools. But the framework draws the line at the issue of charging charter schools rent to operate in city-owned buildings, which de Blasio has said he will do.

Unless the schools are provided facilities funding, charging rent “would impair charters’ ability to educate all students and undermine the city’s ability to advance its progressive agenda though charter schools,” it says.

The group represents only a small fraction of the city’s charter schools. Its members include leaders of unionized schools, and several whose schools have weighted lotteries that give preference to high-needs students. Leaders of all of the city’s large charter management organizations, including Uncommon Schools, KIPP and Achievement First, are absent, as is Success Academy Charter Schools CEO Eva Moskowitz, who has been in the crosshairs of much of de Blasio’s criticism.

The group’s members are the city’s former charter schools director Jonathan Gyurko, Harlem RBI executive director Rich Berlin, Renaissance Charter School principal Stacey Gauthier, New Visions president Bob Hughes, Children’s Aid Society CEO Richard Buery, ROADS Charter Schools CEO Jemina Bernard, Bronx Charter School for Better Learning founder Ted Swartz, and Future is Now president and Green Dot Public Schools founder Steve Barr, according to the memo.

Some charter management organizations have taken a decidedly different approach to responding to de Blasio’s positions. They’ve organized a series of protests this month targeted at de Blasio’s allies in city government who are seeking to reverse plans that would put charter schools in city-owned buildings next year. They also organized a large rally last October to demonstrate their popularity among families, many of who come from low-income neighborhoods.

Together, the public protests and the more private framework indicate how the charter sector is delicately balancing its desire to grow and avoid paying rent with its relationships within City Hall and the Department of Education. The contrasting approaches date back to at least two summers ago, when a large portion of the charter sector sat out of another large charter school rally.

Fariña has said her team is still in the process of reviewing co-locations approved at the end of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s term, and has yet to provide specifics about a plan for charter schools in public space to pay rent.

Gyurko indicated that the framework’s creators would continue looking for support, calling it a “first-draft effort” to start a dialogue among charter leaders.

“Steve Barr and I reached out to some friends in the NYC charter community to talk about ways in which we might work together to further the Mayor’s and the charter school community’s shared goal to improve public education.  We think there’s a lot of common ground to build on,” Gyurko said in a statement.

Gauthier said there is a lot of common ground between her and the mayor’s vision for the school system. The group is “hopeful that we can reach solutions through dialogue, not mud-slinging,” she said.

Here’s the full memo:

Draft Framework for a Progressive Charter School Sector: Equitable Responsibilities and Equitable Resources

Charter schools can be an important part of the administration’s education agenda. Charter and district schools should collaborate.  Charters should share their innovations. New city policies affecting charter schools should promote partnership and the administration’s progressive values.

1.     Charter schools should be held accountable for serving poor children, students with disabilities, English language learners, and other students at-risk of academic failure and should have enrollment practices that are comparable to other public schools.

2.     Charter schools that educate their fair share of students should receive an equitable share of public resources, comparable to the resources available to district schools.

3.     Charter schools, like district schools, do not receive facilities funding.  Access to public space has levelled the playing field, providing charter schools with about the same public resources that a district school spends on teachers, curriculum, and other programmatic expenses.

4.     Charging charter schools rent, absent a dedicated line of facilities funding, would create a financial inequity that would impair charters’ ability to educate all students and undermine the city’s ability to advance its progressive agenda though charter schools.

5.     The city needs new capital funding to house Pre-K programs, for enrollment growth, and to modernize aging buildings.  The city and charter schools should together lobby for additional facilities funding.  A portion of new capital dollars should be dedicated to charter schools as part of an overall strategy that meets the city’s capital needs.

6.     Subject to securing facilities funding for charter schools, those charters located in public buildings should use such funds to defray the cost of building maintenance and operations.

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

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