Colorado

Barry says departure “very difficult”

John Barry, the retired Air Force major general who took over Aurora Public Schools in 2006, has announced he will leave the metro district’s top job at the end of June.

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent John Barry addressed the media at a press conference in August. <em>EdNews</em> file photo.

“When I started in APS in 2006, I gave my word to the board of education that I would serve as superintendent for at least five years,” he said in an email sent late Monday to staff and community members. “This year, I will complete my seventh year.”

Barry said his decision is based partly on the fact that a majority of seats on the district’s seven-member governing board will be up election next November. Three of the people serving in those four seats are term-limited.

“There will be at least three and maybe four new BOE members elected next year,” Barry said. “Even though my contract was out to 2014, I would like the current experienced board to have the opportunity to select my successor.”

Barry became head of Colorado’s sixth-largest district, enrolling nearly 40,000 students, as part of a national trend to seek school system leaders from outside education circles. Many were popular, perhaps exemplified by retired U.S. Army Major General John Stanford of Seattle Public Schools, but others were less successful.

Barry’s tenure would seem to place him in the former group. Though he fought at times with union leadership and the district’s state test scores remain stubbornly low, more students are graduating from APS and fewer are dropping out.

In his email, Barry cites a number of accomplishments, including:

  • Aurora students have surpassed state increases in achievement rates for reading, writing, math and science every year since 2006
  • Aurora students have met or exceeded the state’s Median Growth Percentile in all subjects since 2006
  • District voters approved ballot measures for more money for schools in 2008 and earlier this month

In addition, Barry won accolades from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for the district’s reaction to the Aurora theater shooting in July. By the district’s estimate, 150 former and current Aurora students, parents and staff were in the Century Aurora 16 theater when a heavily-armed lone gunman opened fire, killing 12 and injuring 58 others.

Barry’s military background, which included service as a fighter pilot, leading the independent investigation into the Columbia Space Shuttle tragedy and being in the Pentagon on 9/11, undoubtedly helped in formulating the district’s quick and detailed response plan.

“You may recall that I encourage staff to leave APS better than they found it,” Barry wrote to staff. “Although my decision has been a very difficult one to make, I want you to know I am proud of what our team has accomplished over these many years. I have been honored to serve as your superintendent … ”

The email doesn’t indicate Barry’s future plans, though he notes that he and his family will continue to live in Aurora – “after 26 moves in 30 years in the USAF, my goal is to never pack another box again” – and attend APS events, games and performances.

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.