In with the new

Fariña appoints new Boys and Girls principal as staffers await her turnaround plan

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Brooklyn's Boys and Girls High School is one of dozens of low-ranked schools where the city must launch overhauls by September.

The longtime leader of a high-performing Brooklyn school will take over struggling Boys and Girls High School, Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced Thursday, a week after Boys and Girls’ principal resigned while criticizing the city’s failure to help improve the school.

Michael Wiltshire, the principal of Medgar Evers College Preparatory School in Crown Heights since 2001, will soon take control of Boys and Girls High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant where he once taught, Fariña said late Thursday. The New York Daily News first reported the move.

“Michael Wiltshire is a veteran educator with a proven track record of success as a principal and is undoubtedly the right leader to turn this school around,” Fariña said in a statement.

On Thursday evening, a group of parents, staffers, and students meeting at Boys and Girls said they were eager to meet Wiltshire and to receive details of the city’s improvement plan. But some questioned how his experience would translate, noting that his school only admits top-ranked students, while many Boys and Girls students have special needs or are behind academically.

At the meeting, staff members said Boys and Girls was thrown into chaos by the sudden departure of principal Bernard Gassaway, who said last week that the city’s yet-to-be-revealed turnaround plan for the school “is doomed to fail.” The city must submit that plan to the state because Boys and Girls is one of the lowest-ranked schools in New York. The plans were due this summer, but Fariña has asked for permission to turn them in next month.

Michael Wiltshire will be taking over as principal of Boys and Girls.
PHOTO: Sharon Rubinstein, Teaching Matters
Michael Wiltshire will be taking over as principal of Boys and Girls.

The leadership group echoed Gassaway’s charge that the city’s delay in finalizing its plans would make it harder for the school to improve this year, noting that the school’s first marking period is nearly over.

“We still haven’t seen the real action plan,” one teacher said. “It’s like if you go into a classroom without a lesson plan — you’re planning to fail.”

The elected officials and community leaders who make up Boys and Girls’ powerful advisory board did recently meet with Fariña to discuss her plans for the school, and Fariña told them that “closure is not an option” for the school, according to board member and former City Councilman Albert Vann. She also promised more money for school facilities and staff, according to another board member, State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery. (Department officials declined to comment on those specifics.)

The advisory board also played a major role in Wiltshire’s appointment, members said. They began casting about for a new principal shortly after Gassaway announced his intention to leave about a month ago, according to Vann and Montgomery. After they met Wiltshire at his school and were impressed, they submitted his name to the chancellor, who interviewed him soon after, they said.

Though they are separated by less than two miles, Wiltshire’s school and Boys and Girls could not be more distinct.

Medgar Evers College Prep is a grades 6-to-12 school that admits new students based on their state test scores, grades, attendance, and entrance-exam results. With just 3 percent of students having disabilities and 1.4 percent having been held back before, the school achieved a 97 percent graduation rate in 2013.

Boys and Girls, meanwhile, is a bottom-ranked high school that accepts all applicants, but only managed to fill 98 of 140 open ninth-grade spots this year, teachers said. In 2013, when about 22 percent of its students had disabilities and 16 percent had been held back before, it managed a 44 percent graduation rate.

As news of Gassaway’s resignation spread through the school this week, hastened by an automated phone message that he sent to parents and faculty, the school’s leadership team said students have been upset and teachers anxious. They learned about his replacement that morning by reading the newspaper, they said.

“Nobody’s informing us,” said 17-year-old student Calvin Brown, Jr.

City officials said they expect the school to raise its graduation, credit accumulation, attendance, and Regents-exam pass rates by the end of the school year, group members said. Some argued that is unreasonable and unfair, since the school is undergoing a leadership change and staffers still have not seen the city’s turnaround plan for the school.

“Fariña got her extension to November,” one educator said, referring to the extra three months the city received to file its school-improvement plans. “Why shouldn’t we get an extension?”

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