who should rule the schools

City Council's governance group urges more Council authority

The City Council members charged with coming up with a school governance proposal say the council should have more oversight of the Department of Education. But they weren’t able to agree on a question that has so far divided critics of New York City’s brand of mayoral control, according to a summary of their forthcoming recommendations passed out at today’s Assembly hearing.

The recommendations generated by the council’s Working Group on School Governance reflect the City Council’s repeated sparring with DOE officials over access to information and the complaints about inclusion that council members have said their constituents frequently make. The group recommends that the legislature give the council more legislative and oversight powers, designate the city’s Independent Budget Office to analyze DOE data, and strengthen the role of community superintendents and parent governance structures.

Like many others weighing in on mayoral control, the group also urges more independence for the city school board, currently known as the Panel for Educational Policy.

But it doesn’t appear to have been able to come to a consensus on a central question: Whether the mayor should control the board. Instead of answering the question, the council puts forth three options for reforming the PEP: Reducing the number of members, but preserving a mayoral majority; increasing the number of members by adding two City Council appointees, meaning that the mayor would no longer control a majority of seats; or replacing the PEP with a new advisory board altogether.

Robert Jackson, the council’s education committee head who was one of the working group’s three chairs, has said he holds the extreme position that mayoral control should be abolished completely.

Also of note: The working group’s proposal is the first one I’ve seen that includes a specific expiration date for the new law: six years, which would put the city in the middle of a mayor’s term.

Below the jump, a summary of the report’s summary, from the council’s press release. Get the entire six-page summary here.

Create a System of Municipal Control – The Working Group strongly believes that the Department of Education (DOE) must function like every other City agency from a budget, legislative and oversight perspective.

Create an Independent Data Analysis Body – The role of the Independent Budget Office (IBO) should be expanded to take on the vital task of providing independent analysis of DOE data and issue annual performance and budget reports.

Greater Independence for the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) – The Working Group agrees that the Chancellor should not be a PEP member, but should report to the board.  The Working Group will present a number of plans for achieving greater independence.

Selection of the Chancellor – The Mayor should continue to select the Chancellor, and the City Council should be required to hold a public hearing and vote on any request to waive requirements for the position, which are outlined by City and State Law.

Re-empower Community Superintendents – The role of community superintendent should be restored as the educational leader for schools in their community school district.  Superintendents should be a parent’s first point of contact if they are unable to solve a grievance on the school level.

Strengthen Community Level Parent Engagement Structures – Rather than having several disconnected entities to serve as vehicles for parent input at the district level, some of the parent engagement structures and functions should be incorporated into a single entity. Additionally, The Borough Presidents and City Council should be granted an appointee to District Leadership Teams. Third, School Leadership Teams should be empowered to develop their school’s Comprehensive Educational Plan, after holding public meetings to allow for parent comment and review as well as play a role in evaluating the principal.

Six Year Sunset Provision – The State Legislature should extend mayoral control with the amendments listed above and have the legislation sunset in 6 years.

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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