Thursday Churn: Start-date study

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

Denver Public Schools is launching a “Start Date” task force to examine whether the district should establish a new start date for the school year.

This follows an unusually hot beginning to the current school year, when record-high temperatures – and many older schools without air-conditioning – saw several students seek treatment for heat-related illnesses in August. New schools started this year on Aug. 10, while most remaining DPS schools started Aug. 18.

A task force of about 20 people will meet four times through the month of December, with the first meeting set for 5:30 p.m. tonight at DPS headquarters, 900 Grant St.

“There has been lots of discussion this school year about potential solutions to the problems posed when Denver experiences unusually high temperatures in late August,” said Superintendent Tom Boasberg. “One of those proposed solutions has been to move back the start of school. We are open to that idea.”

Community input is welcome, Boasberg said, and will contribute to any calendar decisions made by the DPS board. The task force is slated to report to the board in mid-December.

Additionally, the task force will launch a survey the week of Nov. 7, which will also be used to gather public opinion on the subject. It will be available on the district’s website and its Facebook page. Parents, principals, teachers and community members are encouraged to participate.

After tonight’s task force session, the remaining meetings are scheduled for Nov. 2, Nov. 30 and Dec. 7. All meetings are scheduled from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Colorado educators who are wrestling with implementation of the Senate Bill 10-191 educator evaluation system aren’t alone in that task.

A new study, “State of the States,” surveys the national landscape and finds a wave of change across the U.S.

Some factoids from the executive summary:

  • Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have made some sort of change in teacher evaluation policies in the last three years.
  • In 2009 just 15 states required annual teacher evaluations. Now 24 states and D.C. require yearly reviews.
  • Today 23 states require use of student growth or value-added measures in evaluations, up from 15 two years ago.

The report was done by the National Council on Teacher Quality, which supports improved evaluation systems and use of value-added data. Read full report

Legislation is a messy business, and it sometimes takes time for the dust to settle and the details of lawmakers’ work to become clear. A legislative study committee approved a proposed overhaul of state laws on school discipline at an Oct. 18 meeting (read story), but the convoluted amendment process was hard to follow. Staff members of the Legislative Task Force to Study School Discipline have compiled a clean copy of the amended bill, and you can read it here.

What’s on tap:

Gov. John Hickenlooper and two other top officials will discuss the administration’s early literacy initiatives this morning during a Denver meeting on “Why Literacy Matters,” sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and education Commissioner Robert Hammond are also on the bill. EdNews will be covering the invitation-only event and have a report later in the day.

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