Staten Island schools affected by Sandy get high-profile visitors

UFT President Michael Mulgrew (left) and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan toured a storm-swept area of Staten Island between school visits today.

After Hurricane Sandy devastated Staten Island, New Dorp High School sprang into action.

Under the leadership of Principal Deidre DeAngelis, the school turned into a command center for the area, hosting a school displaced by the storm, drumming up donations from alumni, and distributing food, clothing, and blankets to students and staff members who needed them.

On Thanksgiving, New Dorp hosted a dinner for 650 families. “Matt cooked until he couldn’t cook anymore,” DeAngelis said about the school’s culinary arts teacher, Matthew Hays.

“We were so appreciative that we got help when no one else was helping us,” said Amanda Delapena, the student body vice president whose home was heavily damaged.

“I thought the story of what this school has done needs to be told,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said during a visit to the school this morning. At his invitation, U.S. Secretary of Education also visited the school, along with Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and Ernest Logan, president of the principals union.

After leaving New Dorp, Duncan and Mulgrew toured a heavily damaged neighborhood, then rejoined Walcott to visit nearby P.S. 38, where 80 percent of students were displaced by the storm.

Dozens of New Dorp’s teachers, students, and staff members gathered in the school’s mock courtroom to share stories from the storm with the officials.

Students described being separated from their parents, seeing family members injured, and escaping their flooded homes by kayak. Staff members told of returning to their homes to find everything they owned destroyed, and in some cases, not yet being able to return home at all. Others said they had weathered the storm unscathed, then joined the effort to support members of the school community who had not been so lucky.

New Dorp has has more than 2,500 students, but for nearly a decade it has been arranged into mini-schools called Small Learning Communities, facilitating personal relationships between students and teachers. DeAngelis and others said the arrangement was key to the disaster response.

“If we weren’t where we are academically, instructionally, emotionally, we could have pulled this off so quickly,” she said.

Returning to the normal rhythms of the high school calendar has been a challenge, students and teachers said.

Huda Sami, a math teacher at New Dorp High School (in striped sweater), tells city, federal, and union officials about her experiences during and after Hurricane Sandy.

“SING really helped me get back into my daily life,” said Matt McComb, referring to a musical production that the school staged recently. “It was the thing I looked forward to, instead of going back home and seeing all the dead fish in your backyard.”

Huda Sami, a math teacher, told the officials that she and her family are still bouncing among hotels and using a ladder to access their beachfront home, whose stairs were swept away. Without power at home until recently, her eight-year-old son had been doing homework by the overhead light of the family car.

Thinking about her own students, Sami said she wondered how they would be prepared for Regents exams next month. “How is this going to happen?” she asked. “How am I going to judge them to give grades?”

“It was hard to absorb information the first couple of weeks, and teachers understood that,” said Christina Awada, a senior who had been in the middle of applying to colleges when her home was flooded. “We’re kind of getting back into the normal routine now.”

Duncan said after visiting P.S. 38 – where students were collecting presents collected by Toys for Tots and books donated by the UFT — that the academic performance of schools affected by the storm was not his top priority at the moment.

“This is not a time, quite frankly, when I’m focused on exams,” he said. “It about, how can we help kids — their physical, their emotional, their psychological needs?”

He said the U.S. Department of Education would provide grants for counseling services and was looking into subsidizing exam fees for students whose families now cannot pay them.

He also said that touring disaster-affected schools, as he has done in other parts of the country before, put other education issues into perspective. In particular, he said, the city’s teacher evaluation negotiations, which officials are under pressure to conclude within weeks, should be taken in context.

“If folks can be as thoughtful, as compassionate, as hardworking, as dedicated working through this kind of issue [of recovering from Sandy], I have every confidence they can work through frankly a much more minor — an important issue, but a much more minor issue,” Duncan said.

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.