community input

For de Blasio, a blueprint for launching community schools in the city

PHOTO: Facebook/New Settlement Community Center, Photo by Charles Chessler
M.S. 327 and P.S. 555 in the Bronx are housed in a state-of-the-art building where they provide support services and extra-curricular programs for students and their families. The city is planning to help 128 more schools offer similar services.

The Department of Education and the city’s new “Children’s Cabinet” could both be headed for an overhaul if Mayor Bill de Blasio follows a new slate of suggestions for supporting community schools, one of the mayor’s central education priorities.

The 81-page report, released Tuesday, comes as the de Blasio administration continues to plan its initiative to establish 100 community schools during its first term. Backed with a $52 million, four-year grant from the state, the city plans to launch programs this year at 40 schools, which will partner with outside organizations or city agencies to provide social services during and after the school day.

The report, produced by Children’s Aid Society and the Center for New York City Affairs with input from a range of city officials and de Blasio allies, is more detailed than most policy papers of its kind and likely to be influential. “Some of the strongest advocates for community schools now hold key positions of power in city government and are poised to convert the current piecemeal set of efforts into a system-wide strategy,” the report notes — advocates that include Richard Buery, the former head of the Children’s Aid Society who is now heading the city’s community schools effort.

The report underscores the importance of city agencies working together to help schools become hubs of social services. (Roughly 100 city schools already offer such services, which range from free eye and dental care to counseling and job training for parents and family members.) Offering those services after school hours requires outside providers to spend money on custodial staff and security, for example — a complicated and expensive process that city agencies could streamline.

Most specifically, the paper suggests reimagining the makeup and mission of the de Blasio’s newly-created “Children’s Cabinet” so that it guides the community schools initiative. The cabinet, headed by Buery, first convened the heads of 22 city agencies in April to improve child welfare by providing new avenues for communication.

But “that set of goals is too narrow to maintain the long-term interest of participating agencies and the public” and the group too unwieldy to make fast-paced changes, the report’s authors write. Instead, they suggest a leaner collection of 10 agency commissioners partner with the existing advisory board for the community schools initiative.

Parts of the Department of Education should also be restructured, the writers say, suggesting a new office of school-community partnerships and going so far as to list the names of top officials to helm not-yet-created committees (suggesting a “coordinating team” be overseen by Senior Deputy Chancellor Dorita Gibson, for example).

The report’s writers note that community schools will need new measures of accountability. Schools’ Comprehensive Education Plans should be rewritten to account for how partnerships with outside organizations match up with the school’s other strategies for lifting student achievement. Principal and school evaluations could also take into account how well community schools work with outside organizations and welcome families into their schools.

A spokesperson for de Blasio said the administration was reviewing the report’s recommendations, and said the schools and outside organizations that will be included in the initial 40-school program will be announced later in the fall. At Tuesday’s Panel for Educational Policy meeting, Chancellor Carmen Fariña reiterated her support for community schools, noting that arts and “health and wellness” programs should be considered by schools looking for partnerships.

Here is the full report:

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