New York

Former KIPP AMP co-principal to lead TFA in New York

Teach for America’s New York office has a new executive director.

Jeff Li, who will take over management of the city’s branch of the program for new teachers, has spent the last year working on the group’s fundraising, according to his LinkedIn profile. He joined TFA’s New York management after a tumultuous year as co-principal of the Brooklyn charter school KIPP AMP. That year, 15 of the school’s 20 teachers voted to unionize, prompting a monthslong battle between the school’s teachers and KIPP managers. This year, the teachers reversed their decision and asked to leave the union in April.

Before becoming co-principal, he was a founding math teacher at the school and won the U.S. Department of Education’s American Star of Teaching award in 2008 for the achievement gains his students made. Li started out as a third grade teacher and TFA member in 2003 at P.S. 69 in the South Bronx after leaving a consulting career.

Li will start in his new role on June 16, said a TFA spokeswoman. An email that was sent to TFA teachers from Li and the outgoing executive director, Jemima Bernard, is below the jump.

Hello [Redacted],

I am excited to share with you that I have accepted a promotion at Teach For America and will join our national team as a Vice President of Regional Operations in mid-June. In my new role, I will be responsible for managing a portfolio of executive directors — including New York’s — as they work to achieve ambitious goals to help maximize Teach For America’s impact at closing the achievement gap in their local communities. Given the particularly challenging landscape we have all weathered together over the last couple of years, leaving the day-to-day oversight of our New York region is bittersweet for me but I am thrilled to bring what I’ve come to learn as the executive director of our largest site, along with my previous four years of experience as a senior leader at the New York City Department of Education to help propel our national efforts. At the same time, I am thrilled to announce that Jeff Li from our regional team will be assuming the executive director role.

Jeff started his Teach For America career as a 2003 corps member, teaching third grade in the South Bronx and then served as a founding math teacher of a high-performing KIPP charter middle school in Brooklyn. During his five years of teaching, Jeff was incredibly successful at driving his students towards achieving outstanding academic gains and in 2008 was awarded the sole American Star of Teaching award for New York State by the U.S. Department of Education. In addition to teaching, Jeff also served as Co-Principal during the school’s fourth year. Prior to his career in education, Jeff worked for several years as a management consultant at the Boston Consulting Group, providing strategy consultancy services to Fortune 500 companies. Jeff received his B.A. in Economics and International Relations with Distinction at Stanford University, and his M.S. in Childhood Education at the Bank Street College of Education in New York City. I am personally excited to see Jeff lead our region through this next important chapter in our history.

All my best,

Hello [Redacted],

I cannot tell you how thrilled and humbled I am to lead Teach For America’s efforts in our nation’s largest public school system.
In the twenty years of our presence here in New York, we have accomplished an incredible amount–but we have so much more to do. As someone who taught for five years, I am absolutely energized to work alongside each of you to ensure that one day, all children in our city — and our nation — will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.

I know many of you, but not all. In the coming weeks (and always), please feel free to reach out to me directly, or to members of my team, if you have questions, concerns, thoughts, ideas or just want to say hello. I look forward to meeting or reconnecting with each and every one of you!

All my best,

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