Wednesday Churn: Focus on principals

Updated: U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, today introduced a bill to create a national School Leadership Academy and other measures aimed at bolstering the preparation of principals in turning around the country’s lowest-performing schools.

The academy created by the Lead Act would develop a leadership training program and establish a framework for local School Leadership Centers of Excellence, where principals across the country could get training and support as they seek to transform some of the 2,000 U.S. high schools that produce more than half of the country’s dropouts.

“We need to train and support principals to target their talents where they are needed most – in our lowest-performing schools,” Bennet, a former Denver Public Schools superintendent, said in a news release.

The local centers would be run by partnerships between nonprofits, institutions of higher education and state or local education agencies. At least one would specialize in training principals to serve rural areas.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, is hosting a town hall meeting tonight at Montbello High School on S.B. 126, also known as the ASSET bill, which would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates at Colorado colleges and universities. Undocumented students would not be eligible for state need-based scholarships or for state College Opportunity Fund stipends, meaning they’d actually be paying higher tuition than other resident students.

Johnston, a prime sponsor of the bill, said in an emailed notice about the town hall meeting that state lawmakers will be voting Friday on the Senate floor and that “we have the votes to get it passed.” The bill faces a less certain future at its next stop, the Republican-controlled House. See background on the bill and who supports it. Johnston told EdNews that talks are continuing with House lawmakers who are “on the fence.”

Tonight’s town hall starts at 6 p.m. in the Montbello High School library, 5000 Crown Blvd. Spanish translation will be available.

Finally, Aurora school board members voted last night against renewing the contracts of two Hinkley High School teachers despite protests by students and others. The Aurora Sentinel has the story.

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

The State Board of Education has two schizophrenic days ahead of it, with about seven hours of public sessions for a variety of business and some 15 hours of closed sessions to interview candidates for commissioner of education.

Chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District, and members have been tight-lipped about the search process, with Shaffer even declining to say how many people are being interviewed. One official from another part of state government said, “There’s a very tight lid on.”

Schaffer has said he’s pleased with the quality of the applicants.

There’s been speculation that the board is interviewing half a dozen candidates, which would fit in with the 15 or so hours the board has set aside, assuming about two hours per candidate.

The state open meetings law allows closed executive sessions for such interviews, although the law requires to board to make public the names of “finalists” 14 days before a decision is made.

The board’s key public event will come Wednesday morning with presentation of the recommendations of the State Council for Educator Effectiveness, which has been toiling for a year on proposals for implementing Senate Bill 10-191, the educator effectiveness law.

See our in-depth preview for a look at what the council will propose

Other items on the board’s agenda include a charter school appeal and the proposed rule to require school districts to report to parents whenever a district employee is arrest. Agenda

Just because the Senate has passed a 2011-12 budget package that includes a $250 million slice out of school funding doesn’t mean some lawmakers aren’t trying to shrink that cut. At least three efforts are in the works. Story

What’s on tap:

Denver elections officials are expected this afternoon to release their finding on whether critics of Denver Public Schools board president Nate Easley submitted at least 5,363 signatures on March 29 – or the minimum needed to trigger a recall election. If recall backers are found to have enough valid signatures, then anyone wishing to challenge the signatures’ legitimacy has 15 calendar days in which to do so. Should an adequate number of signatures pass scrutiny, elections officials expect a special election by all-mail ballot would likely be set for the final week of June.

The St. Vrain Valley board meets at 7 p.m., at the Educational Services Center, 395 South Pratt Parkway in Longmont.

Good reads from elsewhere:

On leave: Roberta Selleck, the superintendent of Adams 50 Westminster who has implemented dramatic reform, is on emergency family leave – and up for a job in Florida. The Denver Post.

Got milk?: The controversy over chocolate milk in school cafeterias. The Washington Post.

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