South Memphis school scheduled for charter transition instead will close

PHOTO: Daarel Burnette II
A few dozen community members attend Monday's meeting, where Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson presented plans to close Airways Middle School after its charter operator pulled out of the transition process.

Days after charter operator YES Prep backed out of its plan to begin managing a struggling Memphis school this August, leaders with Shelby County Schools announced Monday they will close the school and move all students to another school about four miles away.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson told a sparsely attended crowd at Airways Middle School that all students will be moved to Sherwood Middle School next school year in the wake of YES Prep’s sudden withdrawal five months before the Houston, Texas-based organization was to begin overseeing the school.

“[YES Prep’s departure] was really a surprise for the district,” Hopson told the audience.

He and other school officials assured parents and other family members that their children will receive a better education at Sherwood, a school that is receiving special interventions as part of the district’s Innovation Zone.

“Once you get in the iZone, you get a whole extra set of support,” Hopson said.

Because Airways is on the priority list of schools academically ranked in the state’s bottom 5 percent, the south Memphis school was being moved to the state’s Achievement School District (ASD), which had authorized YES Prep to gradually begin taking over grades, beginning with the sixth-grade class this fall. Last week, however, YES Prep officials informed the ASD that it was pulling out as the school’s charter operator.

Leaders at YES Prep, a nationally regarded charter management organization, cited the difficulty of boosting enrollment at the school due to a lack of community support and increasing hostility toward the ASD, as well as Hopson’s announcement earlier this year that the district no longer would participate in co-locations – a model that YES Prep is built on – in which two schools operate in the same building, with one school growing and the other shrinking until the takeover is complete.

Monday’s community forum lasted just under an hour, with questions and concerns expressed by three people in attendance.

While the decision to close Airways did not seem to surprise parents at the meeting, logistical concerns were raised. One parent asked how she will be able to commute to Sherwood, which is a five-minute drive from the school, pointing out that many parents in her low-income community don’t have access to transportation.

Administrators said they will continue closing schools with dismal academic results – and moving students to nearby schools – in part to address the looming threat of more school takeovers by the ASD.

City Councilwoman Wanda Halbert, who once represented the Airways community as a school board member, said schools in Memphis have been neglected for too long.

“These citizens deserve respect, common courtesy and decency to be a part of what’s going on in schools,” Halbert said. “We need to be looking out for the best interest of their children.”

Contact Daarel Burnette II at dburnette@chalkbeat.org or (901) 260-3705.

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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

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.