Hancock renews promise of schools focus

Denver Mayor-elect Michael Hancock Wednesday reaffirmed he’ll be paying close attention to the relationship between city hall and Denver Public Schools.

And a prominent Hancock supporter hinted where the new mayor’s sympathies might lie in the November DPS board elections, viewed by many as pivotal to the district’s future.

Denver Mayor-elect Michael Hancock
Denver Mayor-elect Michael Hancock

Hancock, who said during his campaign that he would name a special liaison to DPS, elaborated on his plans during a post-election news conference at Civic Center Park.

Referring to the city’s Office for Education and Children, Hancock said, “We’re going to modify it to manager of children’s affairs, and that individual is going to work with me to create more of a comprehensive approach to children’s issues and education issues – break down silos, but also be my liaison with Denver Public Schools.”

Noting the school board is elected separately, Hancock said, “It’s not about having them answer to me, but it’s about creating a collaborative environment … where they know they have someone in the city who works directly for the mayor to come to.”

During a debate with opponent Chris Romer on May 31, Hancock indicated he would likely make endorsements in DPS races.

“I can’t answer that right now,” said Hancock, asked about the matter on Wednesday. “We’ll wait to see how the candidates shape up, but let’s be clear; we’re looking for candidates that are strong, we’re looking for folks who are collaborative and want to continue the efforts around the Denver Plan.”

Hancock backer Terrance Carroll, former speaker of the Colorado House, said in an interview, “I don’t want to talk about who Mayor-elect Hancock may support or not support for school board, but I do think there are very strong reform-minded candidates who are already out there – Anne Bye Rowe, Jennifer Draper Carson, just to name two. So, I think we have a strong field of candidates who really want to see Denver move forward on the education front and not be tied to the status quo.

“It’s clear from Michael’s campaign … that moving ahead with reform is going to be a central part of his platform as mayor,” said Carroll.

Three DPS seats will be contested in the Nov. 1 election. Theresa Pena is term limited in her at-large seat, as is Bruce Hoyt in southeast Denver’s District. Arturo Jimenez is running for a second term in District 5, representing the city’s northwest. Rowe is in District 1, while Carson is running in District 5.

Carroll also was asked about possible Hancock support for former Denver City Council member Happy Haynes, who resigned as DPS’ chief community engagement officer last month to run for the at-large seat. “Happy’s definitely not status quo,” was his reply.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s reform initiatives generally have the support of a 4-3 majority on the board, so this year’s election is viewed as pivotal for its potential to preserve or erase that majority – and possibly affect Boasberg’s future.

Tom Boasberg
Tom Boasberg

The superintendent said Hancock “has been an extraordinarily strong supporter and a very personal and dedicated supporter of the Denver Public Schools, and we look forward to having a very collaborative working relationship with him. … He has experienced personally for himself, and now for his children, the need for reform and change in the status quo in our schools, particularly ones in areas such as Montbello.”

Boasberg continued, “His deep personal experience … is what has made him such an effective advocate for reform.”

Hancock and Carroll both said they hope the DPS contests will be free of negative campaigning. Hancock was the target of negative mailings sponsored by a 527 group supported in part by the Colorado Education Association’s political committee.

Indicating that his victory shows Denver voters reject negative campaigning, Hancock said, “I think it’s a clarion call, a very clear message to all potential candidates going forward.”

Carroll agreed, saying, “I think the voters of Denver have set another standard. … We want to have campaigns where people actually talk about the issues and not make ridiculous attacks, attacks without any substance to them whatsoever.”

DPS board member Mary Seawell agreed, saying, “I think since the CEA funded the 527 that attacked Michael, and that backfired, people want clean campaigns, and so that’s my hope that everyone gets that message.”

Commenting on potential mayoral endorsements, Seawell said, “I think you will see Michael make endorsements that reflect his views on education, and that will likely be more reform-minded candidates. … I know he has a long relationship with Happy Haynes, and has done a lot of work around education with Happy.” Seawell contributed $325 to the Hancock campaign.

Michael Hancock and John Huggins
Michael Hancock and John Huggins

Asked about Hancock’s future relationship with DPS, Seawell said, “I think there is going to be a lot of thoughtful discussion about how to start that up, and I would love to be part of that discussion, regardless of who fills it.” Asked if she might be interested in that job, Seawell said, “I haven’t actually seen a real job description for it. My first priority is for the school board, so I wouldn’t do anything that would hurt or impact my ability to be on the school board.”

Hancock discussed a wide range of issues at his new conference. The first order of business was the introduction of John Huggins as head of the transition team. Huggins, former economic development chief for the city, also handled mayoral and gubernatorial transitions for John Hickenlooper.

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