School autonomy key to portfolio model

Independence for individual schools and a sense of urgency about reform are key elements for school districts that are moving toward the “portfolio” model of school management, according to speakers at a Denver conference this week.

“A major part of school reform is creating new schools,” said Amy Slothower of Get Smart Schools. “It’s not possible to start new schools if they don’t have a high degree of autonomy.”

Slothower was one of 20 speakers and responders who participated in a Portfolio Management Conference Tuesday sponsored by the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado-Denver and three other organizations.

Portfolio management is educationese for the idea that school boards and districts should move away from traditional forms of top-down management toward being managers and overseers of portfolios including different kinds of schools – traditional, charter, innovation, contract and the like.

Paul Hill, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, said, “The core idea of a portfolio district is that is provides the best schools it can by any means it can. … The district is indifferent about who runs schools. … A portfolio district sees itself as primarily responsible to kids and parents [and] not particularly responsible at all to vendors, to unions, to outside groups.”

Hill mentioned New York City and New Orleans as leading examples of the concept, adding, “other systems are moving in this direction. It’s kind a viral movement.”

It’s important, Hill said, for such districts to “make the center as lean as possible” and allocate more funds, and the responsibility for them, to individual schools.

On a small scale, the Denver district has a portfolio of different kinds of schools. Marc Waxman, director of DPS’ Office of School Reform and Innovation, gave a presentation on how the district approaches the approval and oversight of a variety of schools.

David Greenberg of the Denver School of Science and Technology
David Greenberg of the Denver School of Science and Technology

David Greenberg, president of the board of the Denver School of Science and Technology, argued that charters and other non-traditional schools help rather than harm districts.

“We hope we are going to enhance the entire performance of the district,” he said, asserting that by offering a wider selection of schools the district hopefully can attract back families that send their children to private or out-of-district schools.  “The net net will be a huge benefit for the district overall.”

He termed the charter vs. neighborhood schools debate, a theme in this fall’s DPS board races, “an insane conversation, and it’s destructive.”

“We’ve always seen ourselves as part of DPS.”

In addition to the School of Public Affairs, the event was organized by the Donnell-Kay and Piton foundations and the Independence Institute.

Paul Hill 2006 report on portfolio districts

Disclosure: The Donnell-Kay and Piton foundations are among the sponsors of EdNews.

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

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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.