Memphis is having the right conversation about education, says Geoffrey Canada

Memphis’ early childhood initiative means that the city is having the right conversation about education, said Geoffrey Canada, founder of Harlem Children’s Zone, at the National Civil Rights Museum’s 2013 Freedom Award Public Forum.

Canada spoke to a crowd of students, teachers, and community members at the Temple of Deliverance this morning. He received the museum’s National Freedom Award and was honored alongside Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland, and Earl Graves, Sr., a civil rights leader and founder of Black Enterprise Magazine.

Canada founded the Harlem Children’s Zone, which includes parenting workshops, after-school programs, medical services, the Promise Academy network of charter schools, and other programs and serves a 100-block area in Harlem. He said that while he was proud of the more-than-12,000 children his program has reached, his biggest accomplishment was raising the awareness of adults. “In places where adults had given up on kids,” he said, “adults need to be held accountable.”

In his remarks to the crowd, Canada told his story of growing up in an area of New York City where a “group of young people whose sole purpose was to lead to destruction” dominated and intimidated others. He told Memphis’s adults that they should be ashamed for allowing the school system to fail students. He told students to stay true to the dream. “Some of this is on us,” he told students, “and some of this is on you.”

Canada told the press that expanding early childhood education in Memphis would pay off. Canada also said that he supports Stand for Children, an education advocacy group that has a strong presence in Memphis.

He expressed frustration with opponents of education changes. “You can fail kids for years and nothing happens, no one goes crazy,” he said. But when you bring in a charter school, he said, “everyone goes crazy.”

Robinson also singled out Memphis’s school system in her comments to the press. “The struggle for greater equity in schooling is part of the same struggle,” she said, referring to international struggles for human rights.

Canada said that he hopes to leave behind a stronger leader and a stronger organization than he’s founded. “Lots of leaders stay too long,” he said.

Memphis-area students Iyonia Boyce, a 7th grader at Collierville Middle School; Jack Dougherty, a 6th grader at Schilling Farms Middle School, and M’Lea Scott, a 9th grader at White Station High School, were all awarded the Keeper of the Dream Award at today’s event.

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.